Strolling and Caroling

Last night I had the great pleasure of singing Christmas carols with the Southern NH Ukulele Group (SNHUG), plus a whole lot of singers. There was a short blurb in last week’s paper about this; basically it just said to meet in front of the Town Hall at 3:30pm on December 3rd to stroll and sing until 5:00pm.

I used to love caroling, and have missed it over the years. I couldn’t resist; I showed up at our town hall, bundled up and ready to sing. The ukulele group tuned up and provided the music and jingle bells and kazoos. We sang in place for a few numbers, and a few people gathered to listen. We talked them into walking with us, and off we went.

For that hour and a half, we were a band of wandering minstrels. We sang every Christmas carol from Jingle Bells to White Christmas. We walked through town, which was dressed up in lots of colored lights, golden angels and evergreens. As we sang, we waved to passersby and got appreciative smiles and waves.

Our final stop was the town’s nursing home. And honestly, that was the best part of the evening. As soon as we were spotted, several ladies in their best Christmas sweaters came out to sit and enjoy the show. There were smiles all around, and we encouraged them to sing along with us.

As we sang “Jingle Bell Rock,” two of the ladies got up and jitterbugged. They didn’t miss a step, and their smiles went ear to ear. When they sat down, we all applauded their performance and they modestly took their bows.

We stayed longer than we planned; but it was a wonderful time and we really hated to leave. We sang “White Christmas” as we walked out, and we all waved and blew kisses to everyone.

By the time we got back to Town Hall, it was nearly 5:00pm. However, the town bandstand was right there near the hall, decorated to a fare-thee-well. We couldn’t resist; we gathered in it and sang a few more carols as people drove by.

It was a wonderful night. We all started as strangers (except of course for the ukulele folk), and ended the evening as friends and fellow singers. We certainly weren’t the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but we did pretty well.

May ALL our Christmases be white and bright!

Saved By a Ukulele

Since my dad died this past April, I found I had no interest in playing my ukulele any more. I didn’t feel like making jewelry, either, or reading; two of my other favorite hobbies. Writing was all that remained. We all have different ways of dealing with life-changing events, and I wrote it off as just POP (Part of the Process).

I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up the uke and play. I felt too bad to let myself enjoy the happiness that playing always brings me. I sort of lost myself and that joy since losing Dad.

However, on Thanksgiving day, the Crankee Yankee and I went up to visit his daughter and her family. I especially wanted to spend time with my two granddaughters, Ava (6 years old), and Juliette (19 months old). While dinner was being prepared, my very welcome job was to keep the girls amused.

After Ava demonstrated her impressive gymnastic skills she learned in school, she asked if I would like to hear her read aloud. Would I! She read beautifully and with barely a word she had to sound out. Then she asked me if I would like to hear her play her ukulele. As she played and sang “Hawaiian Flowers” to me, I realized that I was itching to play as well.

After a wonderful dinner, we all got bundled up to go for a walk. We walked down the hill beside the house, and took in the sights. It was a chilly but beautiful day, and we and the three dogs had a great walk.

At one point Juliette put her hand up to me to hold, and we walked along together. As we walked past one of the dogs’ toilet area, Juliette stopped walking. She looked down, then pointed her finger to the ground, looked up at me and said solemnly “poop.” Then we laughed our heads off.

Back in the house, Juliette went upstairs for a nap, the Crankee Yankee and our son-in-law talked politics,  and Ava and I pulled out the Lincoln Logs to build houses. It was a lovely day, and playing with Ava lifted my spirits.

When we got home, put the leftovers away and had a drink, we talked about what a great day it had been. And it was! Somehow I felt lighter, happier, and more hopeful that I’ve felt in a long time.

The next day I took down my ukulele, blew the dust off the case, and opened it. Of course the uke was way out of tune. Once I tuned it up I pulled out my sheet music and began to play. It had been so long since I played that all my finger calluses were gone and I had forgotten most of the chord structures. But I played and sang. I found that I remembered more than I thought I would.

My mind and heart took a tectonic shift, and I am joyful. There always will be ups and downs, but that’s how life is. I feel better than I have been in a long time. And all it took was a little girl and a ukulele.


I’m in Love With a Didgeridoo

So what exactly is a didgeridoo? According to Wikipedia: “The didgeridoo is a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians of northern Australia potentially within the last 1,500 years and [is] still in widespread use today both in Australia and around the world.”

“It is generally made from a *termite-hollowed branch made from many different eucalyptus varieties and also from some other tree species. Eucalyptus is the preferred timber to make a didgeridoo because it is very hard wood and gives good resonance and timbre.”

Didgeridoos can also be made from bamboo and man-made materials (mine is the latter). I think that the music made from a didgeridoo is something you either love or hate; much like Scottish bagpipes; you either love the sound or hate it.

So how did I fall so deeply in love with a didgeridoo all of a sudden? The Crankee Yankee and I had gone to the Sunapee Arts and Crafts fair recently, and there was a guy there who makes, sells, and teaches didgeridoo. The sound he made was hypnotic; there was of course the deep thrumming of bass notes, and also clicking and twangs and whistles. You could also hear the sounds some bush animals make as well; howling, roaring, yipping, running and so on.

I felt as though I’d had a musical epiphany right there; all I could think of was, ‘wow—I have got to get one of these!’

So, since I wasn’t too sure that I would end up becoming a rock star didgeridoo player, I ordered a pretty inexpensive one (sans termite holes). I found that there are lots of   videos on playing the didgeridoo, so each day I “go to class.”

The tricky part of playing is breathing. In order to sustain the sounds, you learn what is called “circular breathing.” Those who play wind instruments will recognize this technique; it’s a way of controlling the breathing so that the music sounds continuous with no noticeable breaks. I’m still working on that one!

Each day since I got my didgeridoo (or “didge” as the cool folks say), I’ve practiced making the sounds that comprise the unique music. Best of all, for the first time in a long time, I’m enjoying music again.

Below is a picture of a didgeridoo player, and yes—most of the didges are that long (mine is a scant 45″ long).


So there you are—this is how I came to own and love a didgeridoo. There is something both primal and soothing about playing any instrument. Sometimes music will call to us much like a person or pet will. We may not know how long the relationship will last, we only know that we are deeply in love and must follow that love.

*The holes that termites make in the wood just adds to the didgeridoo’s unique sound.


“Heaven! I’m in Heaven!”

Irving Berlin’s song, “*Cheek to Cheek,” was one of Mom’s and Dad’s favorite dance tunes. In fact, when Mom and I were planning her funeral, she asked that it be the last song played as everyone was leaving the church. On that day, there were many smiles as people remembered Mom and Dad dancing.

Just yesterday the Crankee Yankee and I were starting to plant in the raised beds. We managed to put in the peas, beets and also a beautiful lilac bush a dear friend of ours gave us in memory of both Mom and Dad.

As we worked in the morning sun, I heard “Cheek to Cheek” sung by Louis Armstrong on the radio. Now if that isn’t a sign from above, I don’t know what is. At that moment I knew that Mom and Dad are still dancing, and that they are more in love than ever.

There are miracles, signs and wonders everywhere. Sometimes all you need to do is listen.

*The lyrics follow:

“Heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek

Heaven, I’m in heaven
And the cares that hung around me through the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek

Oh I love to climb a mountain
And reach the highest peak
But it doesn’t thrill me half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek

Oh I love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek
But I don’t enjoy it half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek

(Come on and) dance with me
I want my arms about you
That those charms about you
Will carry me through

(Right up) to heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing, out together dancing
Out together dancing cheek to cheek!”

“Our” Music

I came of age in the ’60s, that turbulent time of the British Invasion, the Vietnam War, hippies, free love, mini skirts, love beads, granny glasses, platform shoes (or no shoes), sit-ins, laugh-ins, lie-ins, love-ins, and slogans such as “Right on!” and “Far out!” and “Don’t rust anyone over 30!” and “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

We were a combination of our roots and families, as well as the nation’s hope and despair. Our music was eclectic; folk music, hard rock; they all became anthems of our time and place in the world.

The artists we loved and followed became part of our lives; the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Peter and Gordon, Joan Baez, Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, Donovan, the Kinks and the Beach Boys.

“Our” music became popular just after artists like Fats Domino, Chubby Checker and Elvis Presley, idols of our older brothers and sisters. We all grew up agreeing that our music was the best ever, better than anything because we all loved it so.

When I hear “our” music, I am young again and the whole world and all its promises seem wide open. As good as some of the new artists are (and there are some amazing ones), they don’t pierce my heart with the sweet arrows of familiarity and remembrance as my old favorites do.

When I hear Peter, Paul and Mary singing “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” tears come readily to my eyes. It takes me back to a time when I was young and hopeful and believed that anything could happen. The tears come because I will never be that young again.

But I think that what I’ve gained over the years in knowledge, empathy, and some wisdom and kindness are worth it. When you think about it, the times they always are a-changin.’ And that’s not always a bad thing.





February 1964; Music That Changed Us

In the days of black and white TV, the only way to change the channel was to turn the “channel wheel” on the front of the TV. Usually it was the kid(s) who turned it with the permission of the adults.

Since I usually sat on the floor during “TV time” in our house, I was the wheel turner. As such, I was warned repeatedly not to crank the wheel around too fast.

Image result for picture of a black and white TV

There were news channels, sports channels, and lots of variety shows, game shows, comedies, documentaries and cartoons. One of our favorites was the Ed Sullivan Show.

Every kid I knew could do a spot-on imitation of Ed’s opening line; “we have a really big shew for you tonight!” On his show, you could see all kinds of acts; magicians, dancers, jugglers, comedy routines, musical groups, and the famous Italian puppet, Topo Gigio:

But the most famous act of all of Ed Sullivan’s shows had to be the Beatles, singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

It was February 9, 1964. We had heard of this new singing group out of England called the Beatles. Their songs were so different from what we all had been listening to up until then: the Shangri-Las, Mary Wells, the Kinks, Roy Orbison, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Drifters, Gene Pitney, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Odetta, and so on.

There was something so brash yet so appealing about the Beatles. They and their music caught fire in the US immediately. We loved their sound, their hair (this at a time when most men and boys wore crew-cuts), their accents, and their music.

And it wasn’t just their music that drew us in and fascinated us. Up until the Beatles showed up on the musical horizon, our general view of England was stuffy old queens, kings, Winston Churchill, the bombing of London in 1940, and so on.

But this new singing group made us all look at England, especially Liverpool, in a whole new way. All of a sudden there was the “Carnaby look” from designers like Mary Quant:

1960s fashion

We girls all wanted to look like Twiggy, too:

1960s fashion models

But most of all, we loved the Beatles’ music. John, Paul, George and Ringo were our rock gods, and we spent our allowances on their record albums. We began to feel that their music was our own; our anthems to our teen years.

Later on in our lives would come both great and horrible things, but back in those innocent and worshipful days, we loved the Beatles and we loved how their music made us feel. What Beatles fan doesn’t remember how the words to “Yesterday?”

“Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.”

Thanks, John, Paul, George and Ringo—we’ll never forget the times and the music.


Ukulele Magic

When my mother died last December 16, I gave up a few interests. All of a sudden, I no longer wanted to make jewelry or play the ukulele; I’d been taking lessons and loved it. I even gave up reading for a while as well. There was no real reason I stopped; I simply lost my joy in doing those things.

But time passed, as it always does. Although I will always miss my mother’s presence in my life, I feel her lately urging me on to reclaim those hobbies I so enjoyed. I am now making jewelry again, and am back to devouring books.

This Christmas, my five year old granddaughter, Ava, got a little ukulele from Santa. For the first time in over a year, I felt I wanted to play again. I tried to remember how to tune a ukulele and couldn’t, and of course all my finger callouses were long gone.

But a tiny flicker of interest started me thinking; maybe Ava and I could learn to play together. When I got home, I blew the dust off my ukulele and tuned it once I remembered how.

I picked up my favorite music and started to play. After a half hour, my fingers were aching, but I was again in love with my ukulele. I played several of my favorites, and began looking up lyrics and chords to take with me when I see Ava again.

Every day since, I’ve been playing. I am going to buy Ava a beginner’s ukulele songbook, and I promised us both that we would play together. A ukulele is a wonderful instrument, and it’s relatively easy to learn how to play it.

My joy in playing has returned full force. I have also been inspired by Grace Vanderwaal, the 12 year old winner of America’s Got Talent. She taught herself to play the ukulele and began writing her own songs. Her unique voice and passion really caught fire, and I am sure that thousands started playing because of her inspiration.

In fact, two of her songs, “I Don’t Know My Name,” and “Light The Sky” are my favorites. Funny how two little girls have inspired me to pick up my own ukulele again. There’s real  magic for you!


Songs That Stay With Us

The other day I decided to take myself to a movie; one that I knew the Crankee Yankee wouldn’t much care for, so I chose the new Pixar animated film, “Inside Out.” To summarize, it was all about the voices in our heads that rule our emotions. While I enjoyed the movie, what I liked best was the opening five minute short called “Lava.”

It was a beautiful little five minute song about a lonely volcano in the middle of the ocean, wishing for someone to love. He sang his wistful song for years and years, never knowing that the love of his life was actually forming in the seabed below. This sweet song, sung by Kuana Torres Kahele, Napua Greig and James Ford Murphy (the composer) just captured my heart. I fell in love with it, and when I got home, I found the lyrics and ukulele chords, then sat right down and played and sang it.

There are some songs that really touch our hearts and spirits as nothing else can. Some songs just nestle into our hearts and each time we hear or remember them, we are lifted up. For me, our national anthem brings me to my knees–I realize while I am writing this how awfully corny this sounds, but there it is, and I can’t help weeping when I hear it. Why? Because all that is precious to me about this country comes to my mind, and all the sacrifice it took to become the nation that we are.

Some songs take us back to a certain time and place, too. When I hear the Rolling Stones’ “Honky-Tonk Woman,” I am right back in college, dancing in my bare feet with friends. Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” takes me my dorm room, musing over “what if” stories with a couple of earnest girls who had provided a bottle of Lancers for the evening. We were so young then! That song brings back the old innocence and faith we shared at that time–how bittersweet that time was!

When I was in my early teens, I was captivated by the folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary. In fact, they were the reason I started playing guitar in the first place, then moved on to banjo and later, ukulele. Some of those folk songs were anthems of change, and hearing them for the first time, I could feel the axis of my world shift to larger issues than what color tights I would wear to school the next day. Later on, I discovered Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and fell deeply in love with the witty patter. I would listen to my G&S records over and over again, singing along with them and pretending that I was on stage performing.

Later on I grew to love opera, especially the more flamboyant ones such as La Boheme, La Traviatta, Madama Butterfly, and especially Aida. Those beautifully trained voices soared me up out of my world and into another, grander more baroque one where people strode around in lavish costumes, singing vibrantly, and with a huge chorus behind them. I also fell for classical music and have never fallen out of love with either of these venues. Songs are another way to time-travel. Just hearing the triumphal march from Aida brings back the thrill of hearing it the first time.

So, what songs fill your hearts with joy? Where do those songs take you? Who were you when you first heard those songs? How did they change your life? Just now, that line from the “Lava” song is playing in my head, especially the refrain:

“I have a dream.
I hope it will come true.
You are here with me.
And I am here with you.
I wish that the earth, sea, and sky up above-a
Would send me someone to *lava.”

*Lava = love.


The New Hampshire Fiddle Ensemble – a Transcendent Experience

I love music, and especially enjoy the strings. In my life so far, I’ve played guitar, banjo, flute, recorder, and just recently, ukulele. Mind you, I haven’t played them well at all, but I love them, and am currently taking ukulele lessons.

We spent the evening of April 11 enjoying the *New Hampshire Fiddle Ensemble in Exeter, NH. The musicians were people of all ages; as young as five and some as old as 84. The stage was crowded with fiddles, two big harps, guitars, banjos, a bass, a cello, mandolins, and a few ukuleles. The sound was magnificent! Everyone on stage was dressed in jeans and colorful vests, and the energy they had made it seem as though they are a big family. They played bluegrass, old country songs, Irish reels, folk songs, rock and roll, Scottish airs, early swing and ragtime and even a few old cowboy tunes. Many people sang along, and that was great, too.

What was most amazing to me was finding out that there is NO sheet music on stage–none. Everyone in the ensemble is plays by ear and memory. This is the old way of learning music, when tunes were played in families, memorized, and passed down through the generations. This amazing ensemble is coached by the incomparable **Ellen Carlson, who has performed on fiddle for over 30 years. Among other things, she is a member of the New Hampshire Council on the Arts, Artist in Education Program. Her desire is to “inspire people of all ages to play and to learn to enjoy the many facets of fiddling as well as making music together.”

As she explained during the concert, rehearsals involve a lot of “here; listen to this–now play it” sessions. When I think of the “paper-training” I went through early on–trying to figure out how to make the sheet music translate into actual music, and then singing in three different choruses in college (also using sheet music), it was hard to wrap my head around this simple but effective approach. But think of it–if the music’s in your head, you don’t need a sheet in front of you! Personally, I can’t read music; I never could. But I quickly learned by ear, and I don’t think that any of my choir directors ever caught on.

So, to hear all this amazing music and see the faces of the musicians as they reacted to it–to see how free they were to enjoy what they were playing (again, not hampered by sheet music)–well, it just knocked me out. As my own musical MO is to memorize chords as fast as I can, then memorize the sequence of them in the songs I want to play (and sing), this really resonated with me.

I have to say that this concert, with its friendly and welcoming feel, really captured all that is good about making music together. Please check out the web sites listed below for more information.

*Check them out on