Ralph’s Blog

Ralph Shaw photo

Ralph Shaw, our Illustrious Leader, writes:

My purpose in starting this uke-log of the meetings and activities of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle is to give those people who are unable to be at the a meetings a chance to get a flavour of what they missed. I can tell you now that not all the information will be entirely accurate. As I sit down to update this uke-log in the days after any given meeting I will be sure to have forgotten some key moments and one or two worthy performances and I hope that feelings won’t be hurt. I will do my best but if you notice any omissions or major inaccuracies please feel free to email them to Wendy Cutler so that corrections can be made.

Note from Wendy: Ralph has been keeping this blog since the very first meeting in September, 2000. The full set of previous years’ entries is available in the 
Blog Archives.

Starting in February, 2017, these postings are being made by Tom Saunders or the evening’s leader.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, July 21, 2020

July 21, 2020: Lost together, here, there and everywhere on Zoom with a little help from our friends on a (Ruby?) Tuesday – that’s how we at Vanukes celebrate our love of a little four-stringed instrument during a pandemic. Gather we must, even it’s on our screens. You know it means something if we have participants in Prince George, Calgary and near Peterborough, ON.

Our fourth online event, this time mid-summer, featured a solid mix of familiar tunes, starting with the first quarter of the 1967 Sgt. Pepper album. Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) has a lot of ‘splaining to do after she pulled away Charlie Brown’s football, right? Indeed. That’s what John Lennon sang about.

We played songs that stood the test of time (and The Blitz), from the recently departed Vera Lynn to Carole King to The Who (twice!) to David Bowie (just one day after Neil Armstrong Day (TM), July 20).

No Vanukes happens without teamwork. We had 11 guest song leaders, including Jen, Bonita, Melody, Rob, Amanda, Heather, Edwin, Ron, Carol, Tomi and Craig – listed here in order by vibe.

For Performance Time, Rob and Amanda sang “She The Ocean” by The Barra MacNeils, and I asked them (and will plead again) that they play it live, in person, in front of us. Live. In person. When they can. When we can.

Behind the scenes, Carol, Tomi and Craig took care of the Zoom content (respectively hosting, scrolling and muting). Yup, Craig was the mutation guy.

Thanks everybody for making it a fun event! In August, look for august ukuleadership in Carol, Heather and Melody, aka The Trebles. (Tribbles are something different.) The theme will be summertime

Last note: It would be nice if we could help out our normal-world hosts, The Rogue Folk Club, who run the treasure known as St. James Hall, with donations during this ongoing, challenging period: http://www.roguefolk.bc.ca/tix/donations

See you next month!

Baritoneingly yours,
-Boaz

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, June 16, 2020

When Jennifer and I were collaborating on hosting Vancouver Ukulele Circle nights (when Tom wanted a break), we discussed at length how we should approach it. We both had an academic approach: curious, exploratory, and looking to experiment a little bit. It seemed to me that the most important thing, the most precious thing, about the Vancouver Ukulele Circle was this: a group of mostly strangers singing their hearts out to some (often sentimental) song. The feeling to be got from emotional resonance with those around you through music is really the best thing that this group produces.

And, unfortunately, that is precisely the one thing that has been missing since February, our last in-person VUC before the global pandemic reached us.

And, so, now we are left with alternatives—a situation that will not be changing anytime soon. Carol’s ability and enthusiasm for the ways technology can help is so important right now, showing us that Zoom is better than nothing and that we can continue to improve the experience. Boaz’ immense facility with sound and video equipment has helped bring Tom’s easy natural talent, good humour and expert instruction to all of us in a different way. We adapt. We try new things, not forgetting what joy music brings to all of us.

We all share that same love of finding a way to play those songs that we have always been listening and singing along to. Boaz will be leading the next VUC on July 21; Carol and her Trebles are planning something summery for August, and I recently realized that my next hosting is the actual 20th Anniversary of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle: September, 2020.

As for Tuesday, I am glad that Tomi could help augment the Movie Songs theme night with the melodica. When we had tried singing together with social distancing in a park, I found it hard to hear everyone’s voices. But the melodica cuts through everything—it’s pretty satisfying. And how else would we get that flute sound on My Heart Will Go On, which is so essential? Tomi, you may have noticed, is a little nervous leading/performing. When we were leading the last song, Shallow, she said afterwards that she sort of went a bit blind and couldn’t see the words on the screen. But she had it memorized anyway.

I loved hearing the rendition of City of Stars by Melody and her partner Tom, and Allan has such a great crooner voice. Jen took The Rose through its gentle and insistent phrasing with great confidence. Carol’s exuberant enthusiasm for Lonely Goatherd almost made me like the song. And oh yes: this was the first time (I believe) that not just one, but two, rap songs were included in a line-up of leading songs in the 20-year history of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle: given the recent social conflagrations south of the border, I felt compelled to include them.

Things seemed to go a bit smoother for this last one, and we have tried to take your feedback to heart. Thanks to Rob and Amanda, Ed, and Boaz for offering performances of solace: Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls, a song called Blessed is the Spot with words by the founder of the Baha’i faith, and a brief instrumental version of Michelle by the Beatles, respectively. Thanks to all of you for continuing to maintain this community.

Here is VUC founder and pre-eminent VUC host Ralph’s video of movie songs–so great to see him in action again: https://youtu.be/8LSKBlSR5kc

I look forward to seeing Boaz hosting for the first time next month. His deep musical focus is always something to behold.

A bientôt tout le monde,

Craig

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, May 19, 2020

All I have to do is Drea-ea-ea-eam that this pandemic will be over someday soon, but since it is not—and it looks like it could last perhaps a long while yet—we met virtually again this past Tuesday night May 19, 2020, mostly separate in our own homes, but singing together in a weird but wonderful sort of way. It was really lovely and heartening to “zee” so many faces, familiar and otherwise, from around the world—even Puerto Vallarta and Qatar—and Parksville, and Richmond and White Rock too! Songs ranged from George Ezra, Bruno Mars, Meghan Trainor, Norah Jones, to Eddie Fisher and Tom Jones, with Canadians Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Jeff Healey in the mix too.

Performance Time included newcomers Joyce, who did a really beautiful version of Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am, and Louis who did an absolutely splendid mash up of Lateeya’s Lullaby, Xxxtentatcion’s s.a.d! and Tori Kelly’s Paper Hearts. Also performing was Edwin with In the Beginning by Victor Wood, Ed singing Crawdad Song & The Saints, and Boaz with Dire Straits’ Water of Love.

Grateful thanks go to those who helped lead songs, without whose support and enthusiasm we really aren’t sure what on earth would be happening to our group: Jen, Craig, Ed, Rob, Allan, Joan, Boaz, first timer Tom (yay!), and Ron—who also incidentally did a great job of ‘echo-ing’ from afar with stellar visual aids. I must say, people do get creative in these times!

Carol ended the evening with a real treat—U2’s ‘With or Without You’ complete with technical wizardry, wherein we were actually able to sing along with her while lyrics moved, and it seemed we strummed with no lag. Who knows: technology (and a vaccine) may eventually catch up with us someday, the sooner the better.

I really enjoyed meeting other uke-enthusiasts in the Speed Dating section—uh—the Break Out rooms. It is nice to put a face and a smile to a name.

Huge thanks go to Carol, our Head Operations Manager for emceeing, scrolling, working the controls, jack of all trades, and major problem solver, also Ed for manning the ‘mutiny-ing’, Tomi on controls for Chat and Performance Time, and Craig for backup everything.

Thank you to everyone who came and for your very kind feedback. It ain’t perfect, but there ain’t no alternative, and so, with ukes, we will be back!
Next month: Tuesday June 16 with Craig.

Musically Yours,
The Trebles: Heather, Melody & Carol

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, April 21, 2020

Well my fine uke friends,

That was something (intonation really changes the meaning of that phrase). We successfully had a Virtual Vancouver Ukulele Circle—and by successful I mean that it wasn’t disastrous. There weren’t rolling blackouts, no one was injured, and no one was exposed to the dreaded virus. Success!

Carol was instrumental—indeed!—in facilitating the whole thing via her official work Zoom account; her technical knowledge and competence put us on sure footing.We cannot all be heard at once in these dark times in this medium. And that sense of feeling yourself to be part of a battalion of ukers singing Summertime, a platoon fighting on the hill of joy and wistfulness and longing through song is not ours for the time being. But we all saw each other. We saw, in fact, 156 people at one point: more than can fit in St. James Hall, I’d like to think. It was good to be together.After a perfunctory Singin’ in the Rain (which I first saw referenced in a film in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, by the way, long before I saw the film Singin’ in the Rain), which always reminds me of Ralph shouting out “PAGE ONE SEVENTY-FOUR!”, we went into a song that feels suddenly and surprisingly apt: We’ll Meet Again. Ed (Zoom expert) then led us through Hello Mary Lou and I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover/Dead Dog Rover (note the song writers).

 

 
I want to get out of here so I led Fly Me to the Moon and even briefly attempted a harmony without being able to hear anyone singing the main melody. Ugh.

 

 
Carol led the classic My Little Grass Shack and then I brought us back to Casablanca circa 1943: As Time Goes By. Why do I keep thinking about war-era songs? Those Were the Days followed—a song Tomi and I once heard performed exuberantly in French when a French-Canadian choir took over the grand piano in the restaurant we were in. The song still in my head today, though, is Carol’s rendition of Dancing in the Dark by the eminent Bruce Springsteen (talk about longing). Boaz did “Our House.” Wait. Who’s Boaz? Was he a zoom-bomber who attacked us with a Graham Nash song?

 

 
In light of the recent passing of John Prine (beloved by Bob Dylan, among many others), I opted to (learn and then) lead an earlier song of his from 1971: Hello in There. It was reported that my rendition made someone cry, which I will take with me to my grave. I showed a very basic finger-picking pattern, but I could not tell if anyone caught it.

 

 
I really wanted to belt out what I thought was the most complicated song of the night: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You which Jennifer introduced me to a few years ago. I left the key change unchanged. Rehab closed out Part I: a catchy song by Amy Winehouse (please find it on Youtube if you don’t know it), which was unfortunately quite true to life.

 

 
Breakout Rooms: we had 15 minutes of Carol throwing people (virtually) into random rooms with other ukers. Apparently some tweaks need to happen, but I gathered there was some bona fide (remote) socializing.

 

 
Part II started with the Hockey Song (I replaced “Bobby” with “Horvat” at the last moment based on someone’s chat suggestion, and it continued with Carol leading Someone To You, and Boaz leading Alone Again (Naturally). I then I led Born To Be Wild, a Paul McCartney song he coughed onto his salad one day called Come and Get It, another apt song by Elton John called I’m Still Standing, and the Motown hit, You Keep Me Hanging On.

 

 
I then led people through Every Little Thing She Does is Magic. Now when I say “led”, reports indicate that I was mostly performing. I was looking at the song sheet I had created and had four videos of people on the side of my computer screen, including Carol, and maybe Boaz and then one or two random folks. But I really should have been looking at more of you to witness the spirit-crushing challenge of difficulty and unfamiliarity I was laying down for many of you. Plenty of comments indicated that you wanted easier songs.

 

 
Well the next one, by recently-deceased legend Bill Withers, only had two chords. Easy enough. I really tried to hit all those “I knows.” (My mistakes wafted out into the ether.) We then did Back in the USSR and the UK’s Summer of Love anthem: A Whiter Shade of Pale. We had a bit of time left so I squeezed in You Can’t Always Get What You Want. In light of the tragedy and Nancy’s request, I sang a very slow chorus from Farewell to Nova Scotia—a place I lived for a few years and have a special affinity for. I even invited the Halifax Ukulele Gang members to join us at the last minute, but our start time was 11:30 pm their time.

 

 
Performance Time was lovely: Carolyn performed Wolves by Azure Ryder—for which I can find no information on Wikipedia. It was wonderful. Nancy did a soft rendition of Amazing Grace, which was welcome in these troubled times. Ed did a great instrumental version of Irving Berlin’s Play a Simple Melody. And finally Boaz (who?), aptly and ably enough, performed I Got It From Agnes by Tom Lehrer.

 

 
Many thanks to the performers, and song leaders Carol, Ed, and Boaz. And thanks to Tomi, who kept an eye on the chat, and most especially to all of you for giving the Virtual Van Ukes a go.

 

 
We’ve been processing what worked last night and what could have worked better. A few things to note: we will not be selling the Van Ukes book for the time being. All the songs will be treated as “projector songs” – a link and/or PDF will be sent to members on the email list.

 

 
A few things about Zoom: we suggest using headphones. It seems to be a better experience. If you’re wanting to share with a room of loved ones, a set of computer speakers that you can plug into your computer’s headphone jack work well. London Drugs has them and they’re not too expensive (and they make quite a difference).

 

 
Carol and other organizers can configure different things, but I hope you understand that we really can’t have everyone un-muted, not even between songs. With more than 100 people, nothing would be heard. People did make good use of the chat function. If you find yourself un-muted, you can mute yourself by simply clicking with your computer arrow on the picture of the microphone on the menu bar at the bottom of the screen—once there’s a red line through it, you are muted (same with video).

 

 
It looks like the Trio (Carol, Heather and Melody) will be leading the next Virtual Vancouver Ukulele Circle, unless Tom Saunders purchases a computer that isn’t a wind-up prototype from 1975.

 

 
Okay. I’m done.

 

 
Stay safe, be well.

 

 
Craig
.

There was no March, 2020 meeting.

The venue was closed and large meetings were not permitted, in accordance with COVID-19 regulations.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting, February 18, 2020

Tom here. Well, we couldn’t have chosen a better day to get together – apparently it was the sunniest day in months… If I think back to exactly a year ago, on my way to Vanukes, I ended up sitting in the middle of a snowy freeway cloverleaf, waiting for a tow truck to pull me out! Yesterday was like the first unofficial day of Spring, and it brought out a very enthusiastic group of plunkers, ready to sing out and raise the roof at St James Hall – I wish I could have bottled your musical gusto!

I had help leading songs from Craig, Boaz and Ed, but I hogged the majority of the evening’s tunes – I’d been dealing with a flooded basement over the past while, and it was actually easier to lead most of the songs myself. Have you ever considered leading the group with a song? You just need to be able to sing something confidently from start to finish, so that everybody can sing and play along with you. I’d suggest something simple from the book to start off with. It’s not that scary when you have a roomful of fellow ukers backing you up! Send me an email if you’re interested.

And speaking of backing us up, we were missing Jerry’s presence on drums and percussion last night, and we are sending him our best thoughts and looking forward to his return. And while we’re at it, I have to send out my appreciation to our fearless bass-player Ron, who fought traffic delays on his long journey to support us. I don’t think most people realize what a big role the bass plays in keeping our uke rhythms on cue – it was very evident to me on the first two songs we did without him – thank you, Ron!

We had possibly the shortest Performance Time segment that I can remember – just four songs. Rob, Rosemary and Amanda started things off with some Canadian content – a Ron Sexsmith song called, “Late Bloomer,” which Rob dedicated to those starting out on an instrument, with plenty of life experience already behind them. They did a really sweet version with great vocals. It was evident that they had put some time into it, as they usually do. Ed was up next, with a positive, upbeat ode to those who may may have left us, but remain firmly in our hearts and minds. He performed Simon and Garfunkel’s joyous, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” whose lyrics remind us, “Slow down – you move too fast – you got to make the morning last….” Indeed. Johnny was up next and gave us his personal take on the ballad, “And I Love Her” by the Beatles, from their 1964 album and film, “A Hard Day’s Night.” McCartney called “And I Love Her” “the first ballad that I impressed myself with.” Boaz and Craig finished off Performance Time with a dark and moody song called “Free Until They Cut Me Down” by the band Iron and Wine, where the narrator looks forward to the final moment of his execution. Not exactly “feelin’ groovy,” but Craig and Boaz executed the song with strong vocals and striking instrumental sections.

There was a good response to our Projector Songs, including “I Can See Clearly Now,” “Groovin,’” “What a Day For a Daydream,” “I’m Movin’ On,” “Wagon Wheel,” “Donna,” “Teenager in Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”  Our Two-Chord-Wonder-Song (using F and a modified Eb) was 1970’s “Draggin’ the Line” by Tommy James. Some may know its more recent commercial use as, “I want my baby back baby back ribs…”

And speaking of the 1970’s, next month (March 17) Boaz will be hosting an entire evening of 70s tunes for you! The songs will all be projected on the big screen, so there will be no need to bring your Vanukes songbook along. Keep an eye on your inbox in the coming days for Boaz to be sending you a song file with all the groovy tunes you’ll be playing. I wish I were there!

Before I go, I have to give big thanks to the Rogue Folk Club volunteers for hosting our evenings and providing food, beverages, and access to the wonderful St James Hall, and thanks to Susan and Marlene for showing up early to set up the tables and chairs. And as usual, thanks to all of you who show up each month to sing and play along, in this our 20th (yes, I said 20th!) year of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle.

Until next month, get outside, enjoy the sunshine, and when the sun goes down, learn that next song and next tricky chord!

Keep on plunkin’!!!

Tom

PS – Here’s a link to an NPR radio story and interview done last month at Vanukes, when Craig was hosting the Motown night.  (Click on “LISTEN”)   https://www.knkx.org/post/listen-vancouver-ukulele-circle-brings-people-together-all-walks-life

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – January 21, 2020

Watashi no tomodachi,

Motown. What a trove of heartbreaking songs. Josh pointed out that the music is happy but the lyrics are so sad—“both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords,” as J.R.R. Tolkien said in a different context.

Heather noted that it may have been the first time that it was actually raining as we went through a partly-memorized rendition of the traditional opener, Singin’ in the Rain. It has almost the exact same chords as the first Motown song, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg by The Temptations. Rob and Amanda came up to do backing vocals for Dancing in the Street, the signature 1964 hit from Martha and the Vandellas, which Rob said was a favourite song of his since he was 10 or 11.

EVERYONE knows the chorus for Stop! In the Name of the Love by the pre-eminent Motown combo, The Supremes. The verses? Another matter altogether, according to Melody, who led us through them. But it was so good, and we had time at the end, so I asked The Trio to do it again.

I got to be a back-up singer with Tomi on Please Mr. Postman while Carol and Melody led it. I was just hanging on to my part; I have no idea how it went over. I also backed up Joan on Tracks of My Tears, a slow and sorrowful song, my strongest association for which is a scene in the 1986 film about the Vietnam War, Platoon.

I did screw up I Heard It Through the Grapevine, my favourite Motown song of all time. So many things happening in that one, and that voice of Marvin Gaye which gives me goosebumps. Joan joined Rob and Amanda to do backing vocals—which are a bit haunting in that song.

A song I find heartbreaking for that happy-chords-but-sad-lyrics is Where Did Our Love Go, the first hit for The Supremes and one they didn’t even want to do. Nancy came on stage to lead for the first time and Joan and I backed her up (we sang “baby” plenty o’ times). Note that nothing happened to her: she survived. You would, too, if you wanted to help lead a song that you love.

I wasn’t sure about Superstition. Such a groovy song, but without that incredible clavinet riff, it almost feels not worth it. But the chords are fun and not too difficult. But Ain’t No Mountain High Enough? Nah uh. We all know the chorus, but tricky to sing and I wasn’t feeling great about the accuracy of my song sheet, so…NEXT!

The most difficult song of the night, I thought: Baby Love. Tricky chords, tricky key (I changed it to make it more uke-friendly), a modulation at the end. Melody—she has a lovely voice–helped out and again: we survived. Perhaps that’s a theme?

I thought if anyone was there under a certain age, they were not going to know that they knew the next song, Pastime Paradise by Stevie Wonder, the instrumentation and chorus of which was used for the biggest-selling single of 1995 (and one of the biggest-selling of all time), Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise (on the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film, Dangerous Minds).

I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) was a song that Corinne loved and wanted to help out on, with the intro and flourishes throughout. So fun!

Most people know Do You Love Me from its use in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing with Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze (you can find the scene on youtube). I sang the lead and EVERYONE THERE did the response. One person said it was their favourite song of the night.

After the break, The Trio led My Guy, a lovely song based on shifting between Gmaj7 and G6.

By the way, Tomi afterwards mentioned that there were no chord boxes on some of the projector songs and sure enough, I had forgotten to include them on a little less than half the songs (the later additions), assuming I had already done that. Le oops! I did have 30 copies of the print versions—appropriately adorned with chord boxes—which all went by break-time.

Geoff helped out with I Second That Emotion, a simple song, which I sang partly in falsetto. I love Nowhere to Run To by Martha and her Vandellas, which I definitely sang an octave below Martha. Tears of a Clown: another favourite. So driving and effective.

You Keep Me Hanging On: I didn’t know how great this song was until I started researching Motown songs. If Where Did Our Love go is a heartbreaking lament for lost love, this song is a cathartic demand for release from a spoiled love, released two years later.

Uptight (Everything’s Alright), by a 15-year old Stevie Wonder, is just two chords. I changed the key for uke-friendliness, but you could use any two chords, if the singing key doesn’t work for you. Jerry is diligent in giving us the beats per minute of the original song and so we did that, but then I wanted more intense energy, so I insisted we do it again much faster, which was fun.

Reach Out (I’ll Be There) is iconic Motown. That Edim chord is like a sip of lovely wine.

We had four performances. First up was Joan and Allan, who did a great harmonized rendition of You Really Got a Hold on Me by Smokey Robinson and covered by The Beatles. Rob and Amanda did another sweet harmony for their performance song, When the Night Feels My Song by Canadian band Bedouin Soundclash—it was confidently done and demonstrates what one year (Amanda) of uke-playing can do for you. Geoff gave us Unbelievers by Vampire Weekend, a lovely-sounding tune I’d never heard of. And finally, Boaz performed a family friendly version of this song, with “smurfs” as the key substitute word.

We had time for a few more tunes, which started with I Just Called to Say I Love You, a 1984 hit by Motown alum Stevie Wonder. Pretty hard to get out of your head. I changed the modulations at the end, which were impossible and then found myself totally unable to remember how to do that very distinctive ending. Next time.

I love singing You Can’t Hurry Love. But I wanted us to all go out singing What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, a song reflecting the turbulent times of 1970/1971. Especially sad is that line about his father, who later shot Marvin in the heart a day before his 45th birthday and was later discovered to have had a brain tumour.

Thanks to the Rogue Folk Club, Kathryn, Jerry, Ron, Wendy, Corinne, Nancy, Joan, The Trio (Heather, Carol & Melody), Rob & Amanda, Geoff, Boaz, Tomi, the performers, and the weather for getting rid of the snow. And I want to thank Daphne Roubini (Ruby’s Ukes) for performing a Diana Ross song at her album launch with her husband and inspiring me to work on Motown songs for the VUC. And thanks to all of you for coming out.

Tom’s back for next month, and March will be 70s Night.

A bientot mes amis,

Craig