Getting Out the Ukes

Filipino musicians
Nick Vengua playing guitar in Mauro Ibarra’s band. Uncle Mauro (on trumpet) used to be in the Philippines Mail Blues band, named after a local Filipino newspaper.

Will playing the uke make me a better artist or writer? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Getting out the ukes sparks only happy memories: my father at his happiest, hearing old tunes, the good feeling of learning to play a song (even if you were a lousy player), meeting up with uke freaks on the beach. I took my dad’s ancient ukulele out of its canvas case today (had to dust the case off) and tuned it. It still has its original strings, which are decades old. The varnish is nicked and worn from years of my dad’s playing, both at home, and in various bands.

old ukulele
Dad’s old uke. No brand name; with his ukulele instruction book. Photo by Jean Vengua

Also took out my Kamaka uke, and tuned it, only to find that one of its bakelite tuning heads was cracked and needs to be replaced. Now what? Time to get the chord charts out again? While I’m at it, perhaps I should tune dad’s Gibson acoustic guitar, too. But that’s harder to re-learn. My fingers ache, just thinking about it.

Kamaka ukulele
My Kamaka ukulele. Photo by Jean Vengua

I kind of miss playing music, and it’s difficult to get back into it after a few years. But I hear that music is good for the creative process, and good for you generally. I seem to remember feeling as though tuning and playing my uke felt sort of like tuning my brain. And it made me listen better, pay closer attention to sounds, colors and shapes, and language in a different way. So maybe if I play a little bit, every day…