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
Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, June 16, 2020
What is happening? What are we doing? What was that about?
Before Jennifer and I had a falling out, and when we were collaborating on hosting Vancouver Ukulele Circle nights when Tom wanted a break, we discussed at length how we should approach it. We, both with a heavy academic background, wanted to understand, experiment and improve. What I eventually decided was 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 feeling emotional resonance with those around you through music is the best thing that this group produces. Everything else is secondary.
And that is precisely what’s been missing since February, our last in-person VUC.
And now we are left with alternatives—a situation that will not be changing anytime soon. Carol’s enthusiasm for the ways technology can help is so important right now, helping to convince us all that this 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. We keep going, not forgetting what joy music brings to all of us.
Naturally, we who have been trying to maintain VUC have different approaches, though we share that same love of making accessible those songs that we have always been listening to and singing along to. Boaz will be leading the next VUC on July 21, and I expect it will be soft rock favourites? Carol and her Trebles will plan something friendly and uplifting for August, and I am vaguely thinking about ‘80s Night II as a theme for September. In the meantime, I hope Tom and Boaz continue to produce expert ukulele videos with VUC book songs. And let’s not forget about Ruby’s Ukes for instruction and the various ukulele groups around town which are still trying to maintain a sense of community.
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 too hard to hear everyone. 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 enthusiasm for Lonely Goatherd almost affected me. 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. I expect some of you were displeased. But given the recent social conflagrations south of the border, I very much felt compelled to include them.
Things seemed to go a bit smoother for this last one, and I have tried to take your feedback to heart (though I am certainly not going to make every song simple and easy for you, he said with a smarmy smile). 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.
Lastly, I want to share with you an abbreviated comment from the survey I sent out two months ago, though I don’t think it’s particularly representative but is possibly instructive and a little entertaining: “[The VUC is] becoming too much of a ‘boys’ club’, where we are subjected to the same people performing song after song after song = tedious! …cancel sending lengthy emails post-event … It really isn’t necessary to do all that work! The event is over and that’s that! No one I know gets any value from it! And I’m sure that the organizers spend a few hours preparing that lengthy email …. It’s a chore to prepare & to read, so save your energy! Song selection – many of the songs are way too old even for me and I’m a senior! How about more modern songs? I’d much prefer contemporary music with a modern vibe!”
On that note (ha!), I’ll end this here. 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,
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.
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!
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’!!!
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,