Unleashing the ukelele

Although ukeleles are often not seen outside outside a Hawaiian luau, an upcoming concert will highlight the instrument’s potential for playing all sorts of music.

The In House Festival presents Ukeleles Unleashed with three different acts on March 5 in East Vancouver.

Ralph Shaw is a local professional ukelele player and entertainer who has been playing since he was a young man.

“I instantly fell in love with it and took it everywhere I went,” he said, adding that the easy of playability with four fingers on four strings made total sense to him.

His main instrument is a uke that looks like a banjo and was owned by his grandfather. His repertoire of music is mainly drawn from the 20s, 30s, and 40s because the great songwriting, although he also plays his own original work. Besides his three musical albums on CD, he also has several tutorials for learning to play the ukelele.

“It’s not hard to learn,” said Shaw, adding that it’s an accessible and non-threatening instrument. “Anyone with some music ability who can strum and make three chord changes can play and have a sing song. It’s just good fun.”

During the past 12 years, there’s been a steady resurgence in the numbers of people taking up the instrument. As well, celebrities like George Harrison and Paul McCartney are also admitting that they too play the ukelele.

Shaw is also founder of the Vancouver Ukelele Circle which meets on the third Tuesday every month at the Our Town coffeeshop in Vancouver. He said there’s a mixture of people, from newcomers to sophisticated performers, with as many as 70 people in attendance. They sing songs, laugh and have fun.

Myriam Parent with her group Les Mains d’Isabelle will also be playing together for the first time at the festival gig. Trained in classical music, Parent has been playing the ukelele for about two and half years. Her ensemble includes a second ukelele player, a percussionist, a cellist, and a French horn player. They will be playing songs from their new album called Urgence that they are currently recording for a CD release.

While she also plays piano, Parent composes new songs, mainly in French, using the ukelele. She came across the ukelele while living in an East Van house full of musicians. “When [my roommate] started playing it, I could feel it in my heart,” Parent said, describing her reaction when she first heard the instrument. “It was like ‘give it to me! It’s mine! It’s my turn to play.’ Right there I wrote a song. It was instant love.”

The Langley Ukulele Ensemble will also be performing on March 5. Peter Luongo has been directing the youth members of the ensemble for more than 20 years. They have performed throughout Canada and the U.S., including an annual appearance at the Hawaiian International Ukulele Festival.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $13 for children and festival members. See www.inthehousefestival.com for ticket information.

About Kerry Hall

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