KUS – Our First Public Performance

Not long after I put out the call for ukulele players in Kingston, I got an e-mail from someone who wanted us to perform at her event. I had to reply that we hadn’t even had one jam yet! The Kingston Ukulele Society started jamming in September of 2010. But it took until March 2011, before someone suggested that we should work on a core repertoire. And so we began to think about performing in public.

In April, we started jamming at the RCHA Club, a great place that’s very supportive of local musicians. A new venue meant a new schedule, with jams on even-numbered Wednesdays. An unfortunate consequence of that schedule meant that there would often be three week gaps between jams. How can we survive such a long time between jams? Well, I think we should do something different in those long intervals. For example, we should perform at an open stage or open mic.

Well, it so happens that every Sunday at the RCHA, there’s a folk open stage. I suggested that we do a set on May 29. I didn’t know how many of my fellow ukesters would join me. But I figured that if no one did, I would just do a solo set. Fortunately, a few days before, I started getting confirmations from people. First, Mary said that she was interested, even though she hadn’t been to any jams. That was fine. After church on Sunday morning, we ran through the song list. If no one else showed up, we could easily do a duet. But later in the afternoon, I got more replies.

All together, we had five ukulele players spanning the stage. As we started into the opening chords of our first song, (D, D6, and Dmaj7), some people in the audience recognized the song and started clapping. We knew something special was about to happen. As we played Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”, the mood was electric. I had trouble concentrating on my part since I got distracted by the wonderful music we were making!

I then introduced the people on stage: Heather, who was the first person to answer my initial call for Kingston ukulele players, and then Mary, Jane, and Colin. Our second song was “Tower of Song” by Leonard Cohen, followed by “You Are My Tech-Shine”, a traditional song with new words written by someone at our church.

The audience certainly enjoyed our short performance, and later we were asked if we’d be the feature act for a future folk evening! Well, that now puts a bit more pressure on us! So far, we’ve been a very informal gathering of ukulele players. But definite gigs require definite commitment from members of the group. Do we have the critical mass to get enough ukulele players to show up for shows? And do have enough good material for a longer show? I think the answer to both questions is Yes!

Over the past year, I’ve seen improvement in practically all the ukulele players that have jammed with us. Although I always try to bring at least a few easy three-chord songs to each jam, most people don’t seem to get fazed by the more complicated songs I throw at them. But then again, we don’t need tricky songs for a show. What we need is a good selection of fun, entertaining songs that we can all learn easily.

Anyways, I think we all had a good time that evening. There’s something magical about a person playing a ukulele. And even more so with a group of ukuleles. I hope that we’ll have more opportunities to play in public.

Cheers! Hans

Busking in Support of Joe’s M.I.L.L.

Ever willing to push the limits of my comfort zone musically, I eagerly plunged into volunteering for a couple of busking sessions a few weeks ago. The idea was for area musicians to busk for a half hour on Kingston’s market square and donate the proceeds to the Joe Chithalen Memorial Musical Instrument Lending Library.

Now then, I’m the first to admit that I’m not the greatest musical performer. But I also admit to an ulterior motive, to try to raise awareness of the ukulele in this city. So I picked out about 20 of my best songs, and went downtown.

My first session was at 11AM at the corner of Brock and King, at the north end of the market. On market day, this is the busiest, and noisiest, corner. Most people just walked by, few willing to admit to the presence of a street performer. I was relieved about 40 minutes later by a guy playing blues on a resonator guitar.

I then signed up for another session, but at a quieter corner of the market. Fewer people walked by, but there were a few sitting close by listening to the performances, sometimes commenting on the songs. This time, Roger, the librarian at Joe’s M.I.L.L. joined me on acoustic bass for a few songs, which was much appreciated.

What did I learn from this? First, I’ll never make a living by busking on the ukulele! But more importantly, I now know first hand what it feels like on the other side. I’ve always enjoyed listening to street musicians, and generally, I always try to be supportive, even if I don’t have time to stay and listen. But most people just pass by quickly, not even wanting to risk the shortest eye contact. While I was performing, frankly, I didn’t care that much about the loose change thrown into my ukulele case. I just wanted at least some small acknowledgment from the passersby.

So my point is this: Be kind to street musicians. They’ve all practised for years to get to the point of being able to perform in public. Even if you can’t spare some change, at least say hi, or offer some sign of support. It doesn’t take much effort on your part, but can mean a lot to the performer.

Omnifariously yours, Hans