You are here: Home Music Beat Lethbridge to show their love for the lowly ukulele
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

L.A. Beat

Lethbridge to show their love for the lowly ukulele

E-mail Print PDF

A special event  to be held, Aug. 12 at the Owl Acoustic Lounge is a tip of the hat and a curtsy of the grass hula skirt to the beauty of the unsung ukulele.

Iris E aka Becky Johnston is looking forward to ukulele appreciation night, Aug. 12. Photo by Richard AmeryHeck, even Eddie Vedder released a CD of ukulele music.
But the humble ukulele is more than just a humourous, cute prop for a luau full of roast pig and grass skirts.

In the hands of a master like Manitoba Hal Brolund, it can play beautiful blues. But even in the hands of even a novice, can raise money for a good cause like the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

 So while Iris E, aka Becky Johnston, was in the hospital earlier this year, living on a couch in a cramped room built for a baby,  looking after her newborn son Drake, who was born with serious health complications, she called on her boyfriend Charlie Christensen to bring her her ukulele to help pass the time while surgeons and doctors helped heal her son.

“It’s such a simple instrument, I found I could write great songs with simple chords and they don’t have to be musically complex,” Johnston said. Her dad introduced her to the ukulele when she was young by introducing her to the music of Tiny Tim and she was hooked immediately.

So she thought it would be a great idea to combine Lethbridge’s art community with Lethbridge’s music community and have a ukulele appreciation night.

The longer she stayed at the hospital watching the doctors and surgeons heal her son, the more she thought about expanding it to a fundraiser for the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
“Surgeons are miracle workers. They are my new heroes,” she said.

 So she started planning and gathering interest for the event, which will take place at the Owl Acoustic Lounge, Friday, Aug. 12. She contacted artists who bought ukuleles and turned them into works of art by local artists including Robert Bechtal  which will be auctioned off at the event by hosts Mandy Schrader and Trysch Nobahdi, plus a couple surprise guests. There will also be several musicians performing with their ukuleles including members of Sonis Mcallister and the Barracuda Orchestre, Mary-Anne McTrowe plus Steve Foord and Jeff Henry. A big ukulele jam will wind up the evening, which will also be open to all other instruments.

And while she’s like to be able to raise $200-$250 for the hospital, she’d also like to do similar events under her Army of Flowers banner combining the Ukuleles get a thumbs up. Photo by Richard Ameryart and music community. Maybe even do another ukulele appreciation night next year.
“I want to see the art community and the music community come together in a  great big ‘arts-plosion’ erupting in a big colourful splash,” she said.
“People really appreciate ukuleles in Lethbridge. It’s a sensation. I had a feeling  about it. But I was surprised by how many people there were (who play ukulele),” she said adding she hope all the people who said they will show up to the event, turn out for it.

Jana MacKenzie is one of several musicians performing at the event. As recent convert to the world of the uke, she is looking forward to it.
“It’s a new thing for me. I learned it when I broke my ankle in March. My songs are really sappy and sad which aren’t usually played on a ukulele,” she said.

 She’ll be playing a set of covers including songs from Gillian Welsh and Townes Van Zandt.
“When I was growing up I learned to play piano and then found my hands don’t wrap around a huge guitar fret-board. I just like the sound of the ukulele. it’s just cute and fun,” she observed.

A man who expands the boundaries of what a ukulele can do is Hal Brolund. For him, it is far from just being fun and cute. While he won’t be at the ukulele appreciation night. He showed just how well a master can play the instrument at the Tongue N Groove,  July 21.

 “I still play guitar, though not in the live show. I’ve gone to the dark side and have just been playing ukulele. I find it is much more unique. Lots of people play guitar and lots of great songwriters use a guitar, but  there are not a lot of good ukulele players,”  said Manitoba Hal Brolund.

“It’s more of a stand out instrument. It’s something unique I can bring to the table,” he said. He said he decided to make the switch after talking to a fan after a show, who asked him what he does to make him happy when he is at home.
“I found I played ukulele. That made me happy. I didn’t even take the guitar out of it’s case until the next tour or record. So I thought ‘this is what I do, so I should share it.’ ” he said.
 “It’s such a surprising instrument to hear the blues on. But I’m pushing the boundaries on it,” he said.
“People have fond memories of the ukulele from learning it in school,” he said.

“It is fun. It plays very quietly, but it’s a good register and pitch,” said Lethbridge raised musician Andrew Scott, who is disappointed he won’t be able to attend the ukulele appreciation night.
“  I can’t believe we have something like this happening in Lethbridge. You can get 10 people together playing the same song on ukulele and it sounds amazing,” he said. The ukulele is an integral part of his live performance. He also started bringing them to use in class when he was earning his education degree at the University of Lethbridge.
“I’ve been playing for about three years, since I was in Japan. I wanted something I could play on the long train rides I was taking. I liked that I could take it out and play and it would be quiet enough that nobody would notice,” he continued.
“ You can’t be unhappy while playing the ukulele. You can play a guitar quietly or you can beat the hell out of it, but you can’t do that on the ukulele,” he said.
He discovered the ukulele through listening to the last album George Harrison recorded before he died.
 “There’s a song on it called the ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.’ I was listening to it and it captured me. It had a DVD so I could watch him play. He was a huge supporter of the ukulele,” Scott continued.
He observed people in Japan love the ukulele.
“They’re crazy about the ukulele there. There would be people coming up to me saying ‘you learned ukulele in school.’ And I’d say. ‘I didn’t.’ But at university they had a big box of ukuleles they said we could bring to our classes,” he said.
 he didn’t know of any ukulele society in Lethbridge, but wouldn’t be surprised.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of closet ukulele players.  But the best thing about them, is they are dirt cheap. You can get a playable ukulele for $30 or $40 and learn six or seven chords in a week. That’s doable,” he said.
Serious Music is offering a discount on ukuleles for anybody mentioning the ukulele appreciation night.
“Ukuleles  always sound so upbeat. You can’t be sad while playing a ukulele. I’m sorry I can’t be at this one, but I’ll be all over the next one,” he said.

A version of this story appears in the Aug. 10, 2011 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times


— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
Last Updated ( Sunday, 14 August 2011 18:31 )  
The ONLY Gig Guide that matters


Music Beat

Lights. Camera. Action.
Inside L.A. Inside

CD Reviews


Music Beat News

Art Beat News

Drama Beat News

Museum Beat News