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A little strum and . . . dang!

SHAMELESS PLEASURES / IN DEFENSE OF UKULELES

July 27, 2008|Lynne Heffley

The UKULELE. It's small. Mere, even. Just four strings. It lacks the gravitas of a piano, the sex appeal of a guitar. And let's face it, despite gains in popularity over the last decade or so, the weirdness of Tiny Tim's falsetto warbling "Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips" lingers.

Oh, you do see ukuleles in performance more these days. And there are true uke maestros: Ohta-San and Lyle Ritz. Young phenom Jake Shimabukuro, who makes four strings sound like 16, plays everything from punk to classical and leaves audiences awe-struck.

I'm not in that league.

I strum vintage standards, bygone songs that my parents learned from their parents and a couple of old-time cowboy tunes that were my dad's favorites. You know, the cool stuff.

I accept the eye-rolls. You can't stand on dignity singing "Five-foot-two, eyes of blue, oh, what those five feet could do" ("Has Anybody Seen My Gal?") or ditties about "tricky wicky wackies" ("Ukulele Lady") or Ma and Pa abandoned "back in Oma-ha-ha-ha" ("Kansas City Kitty").

Not that I drag it out at the drop of a hat. Can you say "social pariah"? But when I do, my little uke makes me smile. It tends to make other people smile. Sometimes they even sing along.

And that, for me, is the humble ukulele's true appeal: Communal warmth and a bit of innocence reclaimed, wrapped in an appreciation for a time when homemade parlor entertainment brought families and friends together.

Without simultaneous cellphone action. What a concept.

-- Lynne Heffley

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