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After Work: Playing The Uke At Lincoln Center

…Many of the area’s uke greats took charge of program segments. Yes, there are contemporary uke greats. They mainly have nom de strums like Hilo Greg, Uncle Zac, Makalina and Jelvis, aka the Jewish Elvis

Yes, we did draw a crowd…

Irredeemably enthusiastic Dona Gibbs joined the uke players for a one-day gig on Sunday entitled Make Music New York.

Yes, the title is hyperbole. I recently played my uke with twenty or so other dedicated players near Lincoln Center. That is, to be specific, I played across the street from Alice Tully Hall in the middle of a traffic island with a scattering of tables and chairs, a subway entrance and a hot dog vendor.

It was part of one-day gig called Make Music New York “Ukulele Mass Appeal”. The citywide event featured all kinds of groups from saxophones to violins to xylophones playing in venues throughout Manhattan. There was even a samba group and one set up to play the cast-iron buildings.

So it was with some regret that I signed up to play my uke. First, I am a beginner and I would be in the company of experts. Second, I wouldn’t have the chance to learn how to samba at another venue or bang on buildings in a cacophonic symphony at another.

Sign up I did. Ever-enthusiastic Husband agreed to spend Father’s Day as a groupie and a roadie. That meant his gaze hardly left the back of my head while I played and he carried the heavy bag with the music stand and my music downloaded from the “official” site. He also fetched food and soda. It was a three-hour concert. He endured, applauded and took pictures. What a guy!

Many of the area’s uke greats took charge of program segments. Yes, there are contemporary uke greats. They mainly have nom de strums like Hilo Greg, Uncle Zac, Makalina and Jelvis, aka the Jewish Elvis

Yes, we did draw a crowd.

Some folks dropped in to wait for a bus. And stayed. Others came for a hot dog. And stayed. Song books were passed out and people sang along to “My Girl” and “Down by the Riverside” which featured a new uke-loving chorus, “Ain’t gonna play guitar no more.”

We played “Little Grass Shack”, of course. We played “My Girl.” We strummed Beatles songs. They’d either sue us, be charmed or shocked. We agreed Ringo wrote the more manageable songs with not so many tough chord changes for struggling uke players. I mangled Elvis, lead by the Jewish Elvis, who is a phenomenon to behold.

Believe it or not, people sang. That’s right, people whooped and trilled right in a tiny city park on Broadway and 66th Street. Jaded New Yorkers stopped and gave “Hound Dog” all they had right on Broadway and 66th Street.

New York is my adopted city and it continues to surprise me.

While Make Music New York, Mass Appeal, had been publicized, it seemed a happy surprise for many people who passed by Richard Tucker Park, named for the famous New York Metropolitan tenor.

There had been no rehearsals. The best you could say for some songs is that we started on the same chord and finished on the same chord. And that’s something I’m proud of doing.

Ever-Enthusiastic Husband was charmed. Two weekends ago, he’d sat through eight hours of professional ukulele performers at the recent New York Ukulele Fest. That sort of broke him in.

He came away with one conclusion: Uke players have no pretensions.

I think if you’re naturally drawn to outrageous Hawaiian shirts and think they’re suitable for every day attire, and you don’t think it’s silly to play a tiny four-stringed instrument even though you’re long past toddler-hood, you might enjoy the uke.

Uke players are who they appear to be. I was told lately that even included
Tiny Tim, which is an unsettling idea.

What’s surprising to me is that seems to be even the case with people who have some amazing musicality.

They’re warm, welcoming, kind and helpful. Just like you’d think New Yorkers are, right?

And as Ever Enthusiastic Husband points out, “It’s not a money game.”



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