Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Ukuleles and me..and how it all started !

In 1963, a classmate of mine named Gebian Lye asked me to drop over at his home. We were in the best arts class of Sec 3 A Victoria School, then located at Tyrwhit Road, Jalan Besar. He was living opposite Lorong 23 Geylang. Shortly after I came, he produced a ukulele and asked me if I would like to have it.
Details of ukulele from left to right.
A) This Tenor ukulele has 18 frets and has
a word written in cursive"Capiiol",
with what looks like a tortoise
image above it. No sign or label
anywhere to say where it was from.
But it is made of solid, good wood.
My guess is it probably came from
Europe or USA. 1963.
B) This is a 12 fret soprano ukulele. Brand
name is LUNA made in Tokyo, Japan 1972. Was a gift to me by Japan Jaycees.
C) This is a genuine, handmade 12 fret soprano ukulele by the famous Kamaka Ukulele company of Hawaii...1981. It is very costly and is a sought after collector's item. . D) Brand name "Mahalo"made in China. 12 fret soprano uke 2008. E) Brand name " Hofner". 12 fret soprano uke made in Germany, 2003.

In my chat with Gebian, he told me that the uke was given to him by his pastor father and he could not play it. He thought I might find a better use for it than him since I was always singing scout and campfire songs. I was then Patrol Leader in the Senior troop of the famous 6th ARROW Victoria Scout Group and was also the Group QM and Scribe. The uke came with no case, no info, nothing.

I accepted the offer to buy it from him for the princely sum of $20 payable by installments. Btw, for the same amount of money I could have bought a 2nd hand adult bicycle! ( which I did not then have). This was my very 1st ukulele...the one on the far left of the picture. But I knew nothing about how to play it. No one to teach me at all! No Youtube then! Frustrating? No! I took a bus to the old Capitol Theatre and there walked into Swee Lee & Co, a music store. The company has expanded today. I asked them," I have a ukulele but don't know how to play, what can I do?" They told me to buy a ukulele chord book and try it out...just follow the instructions. Cost about 50 cents. Had only about 16 pages. It had diagrams showing the 4 strings G C E A and fingering for the chords of various names and strumming patterns and strokes. That very basic simple booklet was my only guide...initially. But it was good enough. I had learnt to play slowly by applying the chords to familiar tunes, improvising my strums etc. Soon, my uke was a regular feature at scout meeting sing-a-long, camps and campfires. Many of my contemporaries love the sounds of the uke but none showed any inclination to take it up except for one fellow scout, T Ping. T Ping was so keen to learn I spent time teaching him and letting him play the uke often. He was my very 1st "pupil" or in his own words today," I was your faithful disciple for ukulele."[ We reunited and remet at my place and club early this year, after such long years of parting. He brought along his uke ! ]
In all those early years, I have not seen any other person, besides myself, playing the ukulele whereever I went to. Guitar yes, uke no. I'm sure there must be some others but ukulele players were a rare breed then. The picture today is slowly changing, hopefully. And having been playing the uke since 1963 till now ( 45 years! ).......
Unk Dicko intends to be a BIG part of the change.

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