Joined: Apr 11, 2002
From: Aku Hall, Chicago
|Posted: 2007-10-17 11:35 pm  Permalink|
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Wednesday October 17, 2007
Ask the average 10-year-old about George Formby and almost certainly you will be met with a puzzled look. But a craze for the instrument he made famous - the ukulele - is sweeping the nation's primary schools, consigning shrieking violins and piercing recorders to the back of the music room cupboard.
The four-stringed instrument beloved by vaudeville acts and Hawaiians is also enjoying a renaissance outside the classroom, even becoming a must-have accessory for some teenagers.
Llandogo primary school in the Wye valley bordering England and Wales is among the latest to take delivery of a batch of brightly-coloured ukuleles. Its years five and six - nine-, 10- and 11-year-olds - have been experimenting over the last few weeks. Teacher Gail Roberts said: "They can't put the instruments down. They are writing their own music. They are forming their own little groups. They don't seem to feel constrained by boundaries. Nobody's told them this note is A and this is B and this is how you've got to play."
But it is not just about having fun. The ukulele playing is part of the new national curriculum in which more emphasis is placed on life skills, working out challenges together and persevering. Benedict, nine, said he liked playing "sort of jazz weird ones", while Felix, 10, can already play two White Stripes songs on his ukulele. Victoria, nine, said: "I've tried the saxophone and the flute and the piano. This is a bit easier."
The craze is not confined to the Wye valley. A school in Somerset has a ukulele orchestra and schools in London have also started buying up the instrument, contributing to a national shortage. Teenagers are also buying into the craze. DS Music in Monmouth, who supplied Llandogo primary with their instruments, has sold 500 ukuleles since July.
Owner Jon Petrie said: "It's mostly teenagers. You wouldn't have thought the ukulele was cool but suddenly it is."
A jumping flea
Â· The ukulele became popular at the turn of the 20th century. Its name is Hawaiian in origin and means jumping or dancing flea - a reference to the speed with which a player's fingers move around the strings.
Â· It looks like a miniature guitar but is constructed in a different way, giving the distinctive tone. A decent ukulele can be picked up for Â£12.
Â· George Formby is probably Britain's most famous ukulele player. He made more than 230 records and 21 films. His favoured instrument was actually a banjolele, a cross between a ukulele and a banjo.
Â· The ukelele has had many rock star fans, including George Harrison, Brian Wilson, Brian May and Eric Clapton. Marilyn Monroe played the ukulele for her role as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like It Hot.
Â· Some musicians believe that it is possible to tell if a tune is really any good by playing it on a ukulele.
Â· The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is also leading the renaissance. It plays tunes by artists ranging from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Redding.
- James T.
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