Newbie at a Ukulele Festival


You may hear that playing a uke (ook) is easy. After six months of lessons, sometimes taking them twice a week, I can honestly say, “I don’t agree.”
I can also say I’m glad I didn’t take up a different instrument at this seasoned age of 70, with no previous musical experience other than the summer of ’57 when I tried a few piano lessons. I gave up on those to climb trees.
UkeFest Virginia in Glen Allen was my first foray into anything other than my safe, familiar lessons in a small group setting. My thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Lacy, has been playing and singing with MAUI (Mt Airy Ukulele Invasion) for three years. She has had private piano lessons and eight years of public school music including two years of performing in the school chorus.
She has taken lead and backup lead singer in several MAUI concerts and has conquered being on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I knew a festival setting and the open jams would be a piece of cake for her.
After a four-hour drive, we arrived at the Courtyard Marriott in Glen Allen, a Richmond suburb. We were both pleased that the River City Ukulele Society had chosen this exceptional accommodation at a very good value for the money. When traveling with a teenager in November, it is always good to have an indoor pool and breakfast included in the fee. It was especially nice to be in walking distance of several good restaurants and a movie theatre.
Our first event at the festival was a mini concert from key presenters and an open jam at 6:00 PM, all at the hotel. We had no idea what to expect. We made our way to the registration desk to find our first mistake, minor though it was. I missed the part of the online registration that had you pre-order the festival T-shirts. No commemorative shirt for us and I had counted on one to complete the clothes I had packed for the weekend. Cest la vie.
The performances were the first hint of a captivating and thoroughly entertaining weekend ahead for us. It was also a hint at the genre of music we may hear. I looked over a grey wave of hair across a sea of mature faces. The average age of the participants was probably 60.
Sure enough the music at the jams consisted mostly of 20s through 60s popular old favorites. Lacy immediately whined about missing her contemporary rock taught by the director and founder of MAUI, George Smith, a young 40-something rock musician. For a professed musician herself and one who sees herself studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts or even Julliard, Lacy was disappointed at being the only person in the group under 21. Those in the 20-something group were limited and were the instructors and performers, not the participants.
Lacy and I spent 10 days in Hawaii this summer and were delighted to have The Aloha Boys as the first group in the mini concert lineup that evening. It was like being taken back to that distinctive island time. We could almost smell the hibiscus blooms as they performed several “acoustic downhome, backyard-style of Hawaiian music, everything from traditional to contemporary. They all [sang] lead and backing vocals. Their voices [blended] in a nahenahe (soft pleasant) style.” www.alohaboys.com
We broke into two groups for jams after performers Stu Kindle, Bumper Jacksons and Amy Ferebee gave a short concert. Some people stayed in the lobby with The Aloha Boys to jam Hawaiian style. Lacy and I went off to a large conference room to jam with the other presenters.
I was too intimidated to play anything other than a kazoo. Lacy, on the other hand played a variety of songs from the 74-page songbook complied by River City Ukulele and given to us at registration. When they opened the floor for suggestions, with a tiny bit of encouragement from me, and the offer to accompany by Stu, Lacy led the 40 plus group in “Riptide”. I realized later that I missed a wonderful opportunity by choosing to be Lacy’s music stand. I could have drug out our stand and my uke. The group was very accommodating. The jam leaders made the numbers simple enough for any beginner. They called out chord changes for many of the songs played that were not in the book. I did enjoy singing my heart out to all the golden oldies.
The official day of Ukefest, Saturday, proved to be exhausting, only because I didn’t want to miss a thing.
We had breakfast at the hotel provided in the conference room by UkeFest. There were four large round tables and a buffet of eggs, sausage, potatoes, sweets, fruit, oatmeal, juice and coffee. Much to our chagrin, Lacy and I sat at one of those large tables completely alone – socially unapproachable maybe? Grandma and young granddaughter? We tried smiling!! Honestly! I explained to Lacy after her quizzical looks that these people were probably returns from the previous five UkeFest VA events. They probably knew each other and wanted to catch up or they could have been from other ukulele societies and had traveled together to be at the festival. We did, however, make friends and exchange numbers by Sunday afternoon.
The event was held at the Cultural Arts Center, a ten-minute drive on a warm and brilliantly sunny day. The entrance was framed by bright orange Crepe Myrtles against a cloudless blue sky, a perfect palette for the painter-turned-uke-enthusiast. When we walked in the building my head spinned and my eyes were dazzled with a plethora of arts’ eye candy. I didn’t know where to look first. I had to remind myself that I was there for Lacy’s music education and entertainment. I had to put all that artsy stuff on the back burner!
Short concerts were scheduled from 9:30 until 11:00 AM. The Peninsula Ukulele Players, a group from the Tidewater region opened, followed by Midnight Ukulele Society from Richmond and River City Ukulele Society, our host organization, also from Richmond.
Unlike the concerts Lacy and I are involved with, these three groups played mostly simple oldies with simple melodious singing in a range of harmonies. Most songs were sung as a group to three stage mics set up to capture the whole of the group rather than individual voices.
Also, unlike our norm, we were pleasantly surprised to see instruments other than ukes such as a guitar, a tuba, a clarinet, a banjo, a bass and kazoos of course. Eric Alger played steel drums and River City even played Roy Roger’s “Happy Trails” with coconut shells.
We had several choices of simultaneous workshops from 11:00 AM to noon: Stu Kindle, Moveable Chords, Jess Eliot, Washboard, Chris Ousley, Swing and Blues Uke, Amy Ferebee, Very Beginner Ukulele and Glen Hirabayashi, Beginner Ukulele Music Theory. Swing & Blues filled up before I could make a choice. I read the descriptions for Very Beginner. My training was actually more advanced than that class. Lacy is beginning to write her own music and has questioned transferring her piano tunes to the uke. Therefore, I signed us up for Glen’s Music Theory.
Theory was a quickly paced, Greek to me, hour class. Lacy was following the lecture on tones and pitches for chromatic scales, and the diatonic scale and harmonized chords scale, easily enough. She did complain about the room being too large and the inability to see Glen’s fingers on his uke as he quickly ran through his thoughts. An overhead projector or Smartboard were sorely missed here. I personally would have had a call for pre-requisites for this workshop – a working knowledge of theory. It could be that I am such a Newbie at this, that I didn’t know enough to know what to sign up for?!?!
Sideways Mobile Bistro was in the courtyard for a quick bite between sessions. Burger, bacon and bar-b-que sliders and fries were the main choices. I guess vegetarians were stuck with leaving the premises or choosing black beans or grilled cheese. Vegans are familiar with bringing their own food, I guess.
A coffee truck was present in the morning. The chill in the air made me wish they were there for lunch too. I grabbed a sunny table in the corner and enjoyed the 20-minute rest but missed open mic sessions.
The Aloha Boys opened the afternoon with a rousing 45-minute concert.
All participants were privileged to a compelling workshop by James Hill, the festival keynote entertainer. Booster Uke was billed as “the magic of chord twins, an amazing musical phenomenon that will launch your playing to new heights!” I really enjoyed this short workshop. He was funny and kept us playing the uke with easy to understand instructions. It was a teaser session for sure. Now I need to buy the book Booster Uke to continue. Hill is Canada’s premiere roots musician according to The Scene.
After a thirty-minute break to draw raffle ticket winners for several high dollar ukuleles donated by various vendors, James and Anne Janelle gave an invigorating concert that ended in a standing ovation and pleas for an encore. My favorite number was his original song “She’s Still Got It” about a mature woman that hasn’t lost a thing, who can still wrap a mature man around her little finger.
There was an informal jam back at the Marriott at 8:00 PM until……… After dinner at one of the many restaurant choices near the hotel and a swim in the thimble sized pool, we conked out to recharge for the next day. Scheduled was a two-hour morning of Gospel jamming led by Amy Ferebee at the hotel.
The time change that night was a welcome relief as we slept in. Breakfast was served again from 7:00 until 9:00 AM. I actually think the scrambled eggs were real and not the reconstituted powdery ones so often served at hotels.
By the time the Gospel jam rolled around, I was ready to give it a try. We sang and played old favorites that wouldn’t have been complete without “Amazing Grace”.
We left with new friends, new chords, new songs and for sure, a new enthusiasm for the versatile ukulele.

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Imperfect Pottery Party

Considering a recent “back to the past” moment, I am planning two important events.  One, a group trip to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch and the Pueblo people’s cave homes and more immediately, an Imperfect Pottery Party. I had a glimpse, a small window into the old me; the me that had so much energy, the me that had creative brain neurons firing almost constantly.  That moment was almost frightening! I didn’t realize what was missing until I saw it again.  It was such a welcome, but a quickly fleeting moment. It’s been three years, less one month, today, since Mitone decided to have a brain aneurism and check out on us.  For the next three days we’re celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), another attempt at putting one foot in front of the other without losing the good memories. “Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated {……..,} by people of Mexican ancestry {…….with } prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died.” (Wikipedia)  They have picnics in the graveyards and have the deceased’ favorite foods for those that come back from the dead for a visit. Even though I lost my only sibling this September 11 and my very young cousin a week later, I’m not in the funk I’ve lived through for the last three years.  Believe me!  Lacy and I have stayed remarkably strong and always living in the moment.  Therefore! Please join Lacy and me as we celebrate my crawl-out-of-the-basement and off-the-pottery-wheel.  We’re feeding the “glimpse” moment with a party.  Our house will be open from 10:00am until 8:00pm on Friday, November 24.  Come by and see and/or buy my Imperfect Pottery, paintings that need a new home, and all the dust bunnies.  Most of all, help me have more moments.  All art at rock bottom prices and get the dust bunnies as a gift.  Come by and enjoy the cookies I’m making per Lacy’s request. Bring a musical instrument and help Lacy make the house really merry. I’ll have the details of the Colorado/NM trip ready by then.

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What a difference a year makes!

December 1, 2015. One year ago today I got the horrible news that my only daughter died unexpectedly while on a job at The Chocolate Moose, in Stuart Virginia. I hadn't been too enthused to do a lot of writing since then.  However, today I sit on a train bound for NY, NY with my only grandchild, Lacy.   To fly or drive? That was the question. We both love trains. We had plenty of time and it was less expensive to take a train.  No way I would drive.  Just a few of the determining factors.  I want to post a few blogs here about traveling with a ten-year-old. Excuse the messy writing and grammatical errors. I'm using a mini iPad. The train rock and rolls and the ten-year-old breaks my concentration. But that is the fun of traveling with her.  The biggest determination in choosing the train is just because of Lacy. She loves getting up, moving around, unbound by tight seats and restrictions experienced on airlines. She has plenty of time to complete her homework and to see interesting sights. I like it for her because I get to play geography teacher. There's nothing like first hand experience to learn about a region or two. The drive from Hillsville to High Point to catch the 8:17am Carolinian was a breeze because I had the radio on and averted a traffic issue on the I40 Business. I left at 6am.  Lacy took a nap and was ready to see the world by the time we arrived. My timing of one and a half hours was perfect. The small station at High Point if easy to navigate, easy to park and has a very friendly, helpful staff. Watch for more posts to come when we see The Rockettes tomorrow.Lacy in the dining car of the Carolinian
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Thanksgiving: No Cell, No Phone, No TV, No Internet!

Hunting with my big brother.

Hunting with my big brother.

Three nights and four days with no TV, no cell phone or landline service and no internet connection might seem inconceivable to many.  It was one of the best Thanksgiving vacations I’ve had in ages! My sister-in-law, Jeannie Lohr (Moseley), purchased a new hunting cabin in the middle of the George Washington National Forest just outside Churchville, Virginia and invited me up for the holiday.    I heard the snow forecast and left on Tuesday arriving in time to sit down with her and my brother, Steve, for a hot chili-bean dinner.  Steve makes the best chili! The snow came as predicted and by Wednesday morning, 5-inches covered the landscape like a white Christmas blanket.  The trees were heavy with snow.  The power blinked on and off like a neon sign, continuously threatening us with even fewer modern conveniences. We all cooked and ate, ate and cooked.  The “cabin” turned out to be a good-sized house with all the amenities (if you don’t count TV).  A big rock fireplace with a fire that burned day and night camouflaged the cold outside.  We warmed our toes often, after what I consider one of the best parts of the affair -- Steve and I went grouse hunting. He hunted with a gun and I with a Canon EOS Rebel T3. We both brought home the game. The snow crunched under our feet and tickled our faces as we tramped each day through the National Forest, only yards from the house and the smell of the wood fire waiting our return. I “hunted” alone for several hours one day, exploring the rigid columns of tall soldiers hiding all but the bravest of our feathered friends.  Yes!  I had on blaze orange.   And yes.  There were hunters as thick as vultures on road kill. The icy roads cleared on Thanksgiving Day and we drove to Elkhorn Lake and to Braley Pond planning my next trip for some trout fishing and to paint a mural with a stream on their wall for the pet raccoon to paddle in. We need to name him.  What do you suggest?
Raccoon in a birch canoe.  What's a good name for him?

Raccoon in a birch canoe. What's a good name for him?

Steve and Jeannie aren’t accepting renters, short or long term, but if you have an urge to do some hunting and fishing, The Buckhorn Inn at 2487 Hankey Mountain Hwy. Rt.250, Churchville, Virginia looks like a great place to stay. Call innkeepers Garlan & Sylvia Yoder at (540) 337-8660.  I had dinner there many years ago and loved the place.            
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Celtic Life, Myth, and Art: a Lost Civilization

A Celtic letter "C" designed by Penelope Moseley inspired by granddaughter, Lacy's art work.

Since my trip to southwestern Ireland in September 2013 and my upcoming trip to Northern Ireland in December 2014, I’ve been intrigued with the Celtic culture. Even more so when I saw firsthand, the Celtic cultures of northwestern Spain this past June. Is it the years that I’ve put on since World History in high school and undergrad work or is it the fact that classical, traditional history classes doesn’t cover a lot about the Celts? I purchased an animated film The Secret of Kells.  It is beautiful!  Celtic art is very curvilinear, with Celtic symbols and designs containing spirals, interlacing patterns, knot work, stylized animal forms and exquisite color.  This film has all that and more. I wanted to know how to spell some of the film character’s names and was curious about making ink from oak berries, as they did in the film.  You gotta love “Google”!  This is a brilliant blog spot that gave me the answers: http://cabinet-of-wonders.blogspot.com/2012/01/secret-of-kells.html   I just emailed off a proposal to the Appalachian Summer Regional Governor’s School for June 2015.  I’ve taught Economic Development through Arts and Culture in Southwest Virginia for the last three summers.  I want to switch it up a little this time.  I have learned so much in doing the research for the class I hope to teach at Wytheville Community College, Art 195-1: Topics in Art, Celtic Life, Myth, and Art: a Lost Civilization.  We’ll draw our inspiration on Ireland’s ancient Tree Lore, Mummers, Ogham, an ancient from of writing, and The Book of Kells, a 5th century CE Irish monks’ decorative manuscripts.  The brightest high school students will earn college credits for these engaging arts projects: Create an Ogham clay pendant, learn Celtic Calligraphy, create their own Kells-type manuscript, research and create a representative mummer character-mask, preform for the class as a mummer using a poem or story from their research.   I am boning up on my knowledge and beginning to prepare a Power Point presentation.  I started early to make the most of my research trip to Ireland in December.   While there, I am interviewing a mummer, I’m going back to Trinity College Library in Dublin to see the Book of Kells and I’m opening my mind and spirit for all Celtic cultural experiences that pass my way.  
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Contact Me

If you would like your vacation or tourism property covered in a feature story, contact me,
Penelope Moseley
276-733-9704
paw@penelopesart.com