In my youth I thought the ukulele, as well as the songs played on it, were among the purest examples of what my peers and I called “lame.” (Funny how the word has resurfaced in recent years and seems to mean the same thing.) Only the accordion came in higher on our list of instruments to avoid.
Part of the uke’s bad rap for any of us who didn’t live in Hawaii was that we associated it with the only Hawaiian song we’d ever heard: “Tiny Bubbles.” And where was “Tiny Bubbles” performed? In night clubs overflowing with people our parents’ age, which automatically qualified it as lame. (Never mind that “Tiny Bubbles” was really played on the piano with guitar and drum backup.)
Fortunately, Jake Shimabukaro, Hawaiian virtuoso, came along and turned perceptions of the lowly ukulele upside down and inside out. A month ago he filled most of the 2,480 seats in Seattle’s concert hall with people of all ages, and they demanded three encores. Also, Jimmy Buffet was in the foyer selling CD’s for Jake that night. I’m confident no one used the word “lame” to describe the event.
Now I’m hooked on the uke. I’ve added it to the piano as a musical interest, and this may be a good thing. Some research studies related to music and aging suggest that musical training offsets losses in memory.” Another study showed that Alzheimer patients who listened to music during their recreation period, compared to two other groups who worked on puzzles or drawing and painting projects, “were more alert, happier, and had higher recall of past personal history.”
The irony is that as a beginner one of the first pieces I learned to play was “Tiny Bubbles,” and so far my musical repertoire consists of songs that are, well…lame. But for a novice, this seems less important than being able to play something, anything.