I do not fish, though obviously in a valley full of rivers and dams, other people fish. As do herons and gulls and divers (the ducks, not the Navy guys). I’m a little dubious about the quality of the water and what might be in those fish, but people assure me they’ve been eating them for years … and apparently no harm has come to them.
I, on the other hand, know what’s in that water, so I just smile weakly and wish them good luck and a pleasant dinner. I’m not that fond of trout anyhow.
Rather than fishing, I like making music. Not so much listening to it, though I do that too … but making it. Plucking strings, tinkling the (fake) ivories. Blowing my own horn. And it is in the service of making music that I now have a lovely little tenor ukulele.
Me and the ukulele have history going way back. I picked up my first soprano uke at Sam Goody in Hempstead when I was still in college. I was a piano student, but pianos are not portable. It was, after all, the folk music era and unless, as Tom Lehrer suggested you want to view the piano as an 88 string guitar, it just doesn’t make it as a folk instrument. To be fair, the ukulele isn’t entirely a folk instrument either, but it’s a lot closer than a living room grand Steinway.
I wanted a small, light, fun instrument I could take with me so I could, assuming I could tune to whatever key other more sophisticated pluckers were in, I could join. There’s no instrument lighter, more portable, easier, and more fun than a ukulele. And what other instrument conjures dreams of diamond bright beaches and tropical sunsets? Powerful symbolism for a littler, 4-string strumming instrument.
Around the same time, I bought a guitar and more or less learned to play it, though I was never by any definition a good player. No idea what happened to my uke. I know I sold the guitar. Afterwards, I went home to the piano. My hands felt right on the keyboard.
Years rolled on. I sold my Steinway grand. I had no instrument in Israel, except a miniature electric keyboard that was more a toy than a real music maker. Then, when we were living in the Boston townhouse, Garry and Owen bought me the Yamaha Clavinova which has been with me for the past 23 years.
Until this past week. When I sold it to Owen’s friend, Dave, who was looking at it all dewy-eyed. He has M.S. and keyboards are the way he keeps his hands moving and useful, something I can relate to painfully (no pun intended) well. I have not been able to play my piano for a a couple of years. The arthritis in my hands has caught up with me. Unless I have further surgery — and it works, always a bit dicey — the pain of playing takes all the fun out of it. Who knew hands could hurt that much? I thought it was my wrists, that I had carpel tunnel problems, but it isn’t. It’s hands full of calcification of all those little bones.
Almost every pianist over the age of 60 has arthritic hands. Some worse than others and you can blame DNA for whether it’s completely disabling from a musical point of view, or just inconvenient. You don’t see a lot of old concert pianists … and that’s why. All that stretching and pounding from when you are just past being a toddler damages little bones and if you are, as I am, inclined to arthritis anyhow … well …
Meanwhile, the itch to get another ukulele has been growing. The uke is small enough to not put a lot of strain on me (or my budget). Nor does it require significant hand strength or dexterity — unlike the piano. A classy, hand-made solid wood ukulele is not cheap. I’ve seen some beauties that cost a couple of thousand dollars, but you can also pick up a nice little uke on which you can learn and which will sound pretty good to the less discerning ear, for around $100. Using a bit of the money from selling the piano, I found a nice, solid mahogany, tenor ukulele. It arrived a couple of days ago, and so began my ukulele adventure.
I had also bought an electronic tuner, a book of chords for beginners, a package of picks, and a hard case. I once had a nice guitar that some guest at a party kicked in, presumably accidentally. I never found out who done it, but live and learn. I buy protective cases for instruments.
Next step was to tune it. How exactly was I supposed to use the electronic tuning device? More to the point, to what part of the uke do you clip it? The “instructions” included with it were sheer poetry, and probably a direct translations from whatever Asian tongue in which they were originally written. Poetic, but uninformative.
I knew that you are supposed to clip the tuner to some part of the ukulele, but where?
“Position the tuner by clip on the part of the musical instrument which vibrates distinctly, adjust until you can see the LCD clearly.”
How about a picture? Diagram? Name of part?
I went back to the devices listing on Austin Bazaar’s website from which I bought it. Nothing. Apparently everyone but me already knows how to use it. So I went to Amazon and kept looking at electronic tuners until someone showed a picture of a tuner in use.
Aha! Mystery solved. I set the tuner to “U” for ukulele and began the tuning process. The tuner worked. When I get a string tuned to the correct note, the machine flashes neon green.
Took me about 15 minutes. New strings are stretchy, but I got it. Then, I took out the book of chords. I tried a few, then started muttering to myself. “That’s weird. The chords are all upside down. ”
Something was upside down, but it wasn’t the chords. I had tuned the strings upside down.
I retuned the instrument. It was easier the second time, especially because I was tuning the correct strings to the appropriate notes.
I learned three chords, realized I needed to clip the nails on my left hand or I wasn’t going to be able to hold the strings tight on the frets. By the time I finished that, it was time to cook dinner. The next morning, I dislocated my unhealed breastbone.
So the ukulele will have to wait awhile. A few days, anyway.
At least it’s in tune. Right-side up.
The next time I go fishing, I will bring the ukulele. If I sing to them, fish will rise to the surface and sing along. That’s what fish do, here in the valley. No, really, they do. (Not.)