Friday, March 11, 2016

Antipodal Ukes

Last night at the Mayo Performing Arts Center (formerly the Community Theater) in Morristown, I had the good fortune to catch the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. Yes, you read that right. If your first thought is of gents and flappers in raccoon coats strumming to Yes, Sir! That's My Baby!, think again. Yet there is a sense in which this is not so very wrong after all: the 1920s ukulele craze was all about light-hearted fun, and so is the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. Musicians and musical critics often take what they do very seriously – nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the pure fun element gets lost. The uke-players had a merry old time of it last night, as did the audience. Moreover, they did so while getting remarkable musical results from instruments “most people regard as toys.”

The whimsically dressed Kiwis came on stage and laid down the rules at the outset of the evening: “Tonight’s first rule is, if you know the words, sing along; the second rule is, if you don’t know the words, sing along.” We knew a lot of them. The eclectic playlist included the Kinks (Sunny Afternoon), Blondie (Pretty Baby), Dolly Parton (Jolene), Britney Spears (Baby One More Time), and the Rolling Stones (Honky Tonk Women), just to scratch the eclectic surface. There was even a Maori chant. WIUO interacted casually with the audience including dancing with the first couple of rows.

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is on the last leg of a US tour that has zigzagged West to East for two months. It works south for 7 more gigs, ending in Fort Lauderdale, FL, on March 20. If one happens to be near you, stop for a listen and – if you’re up for it – maybe even a singalong. The experience won’t be profound, but it will be fun.


  1. Yeah, I bet it was fun. I love to get out and hear some live music. I caught two local events with some college wind ensembles at the junior college and over at the branch of UT. Both were fun and enjoyable. One of them included some USO type big band music like In The Mood and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, it was fun and an upswing mood pill.

    Don't hear a lot of ukulele these days. I guess a lot of that is derived from island music? A friend of mine sent me a CD copy of Gabby Pahinui, The Best of Gabby Vol. II. There's some vocals on it that do take a bit to get into, but most of the CD is instrumental, and very pleasant. It's tropical isle music. You can hear & pick up a copy used on Amazon for $4.00 It sort of reminds me of the soundtrack to that movie The Descendants, which I liked too.

    Jake Shimabukuro is a pretty hot musician right now on the ukulele. He has many albums out currently.

    1. The ukulele was designed in Hawaii in the 1880s. According to Wiki it was based “on several small guitar-like instruments of Portuguese origin.” It spread to the mainland and around the world immediately after WW1. The instrument was adapted to all kinds of popular music in its 1920s heyday.

      I looked up Jake on youtube. Skilled hands can make amazing sounds with ukuleles.

  2. Ok you've intrigued me with this one. And you said my musical taste was eclectic. :) But all in all it sounds like this was a fun time.

    And who am I to judge. I saw Weird Al Yankovic in concert last year and had a blast.

    1. The range of songs and genres is such that it wasn’t really possible to pick one that was representative for the video. There is something to appeal to almost anyone. Rather like Mark Twain’s remark about Connecticut weather, if you don’t like it wait five minutes.

      Hey, I’d go see Weird Al, too. Also the Unknown Hinson.