A Musical Journey

Music has been a big part of my life for over four decades now. I whistled the theme to the movie “The Bridge over the River Kwai” as I marched to my kindergarten graduation ceremony. When I got sick and was bed-ridden as an eight year old, my parents gave me a ukulele, although with no instruction or information on how to play it, I never even began to use it. I played clarinet in grade school, but didn’t stick with it enough to actually learn anything. Likewise with piano lessons, both private instruction and group instruction in grade school. My dad and I took guitar lessons together for a while. I started singing with the school choirs in 7th grade, and continued on through High School. I remember that I wanted to drop out of typing class so that I could join the elite choral group in my first year of High School, but my counselor wouldn’t let me. I was never popular in school, but to the degree that I did have friends, they all came from being involved in music.

After graduation, being musical probably saved my life. Of the four years that I spent in the U. S. Army, it was the one year that I spent attached to the 9th Infantry Division’s Soldier’s Chorus that allowed me to remain in touch with my humanity to the extent that I did. Being in that chorus was its own special version of hell, but it was better than the hell that I could have been part of.

After that adventure, I didn’t do much with music until my last semester of college, and even then I quit school and moved away when I got a job, and never actually performed with that group. I did do a bit of theatrics in a small production at Fairhaven College, but that wasn’t musical. And of course I was a Spear Carrier, Third Class in the San Diego Light Opera Company’s production of “The Gypsy Baron”. Good times…

Then there was a dry spell for a number of years. Sure, I was a consumer of packaged music product, and I’ve bought a CD or two (or a few hundred) over the years, but it was a passive exercise, not an active one. That all changed in 2007.

ABCon 7 was going to be in Portland, close enough for me to attend. People who only (or mostly) knew each other as avatars or gaming characters were going to gather in meat space. As part of the festivities, a few of the people were practicing on-line and were going to gather and make music as The Bacon Boys. It sure sounded like fun, so I decided to become more active in making music. I resolved to teach myself to play the guitar.

I even had one. Back in High School I’d noticed a completely trashed guitar on top of the shelves that held music scores in the chorus teacher’s office (Hi Pat Daugherty!) I asked him whose guitar that was, and he said, “I don’t know. Do you want it?” I did. I took it home and fixed it up the best I could. Somebody had taken a compass and pens and outlined the pick guard, and scratched straight lines where the strings were. I took the strings and the guard off and sanded down and varnished the front of the instrument, and I changed the tuners. It was still a trashed guitar, but it was mine, and I had brought it back to life with my own two hands.

While I was in the army, Debbie had custody of the instrument, as she was going to study music in college, and there was a requirement for music majors to learn to play the guitar. A chance meeting many years later in San Diego allowed me to repossess my guitar, and I’ve had it ever since, but for many years it had suffered from neglect. It lived in a case, in a closet, in a disused room of my house for many years before I decided to take it up again.

This initiative suffered from two faults. First, I didn’t have nearly enough time before the convention to actually learn how to play, especially given the difficulty of the task of teaching myself to do so. Secondly, barre chords just escaped me. The con came and went, and I was too frustrated by my inability to make a decent F chord to continue. A poor worker blames his tools, but that was me. Even the purchase of a new guitar didn’t allow me to jump that hurdle. I quit the guitar.

But I still wanted to make music. Months passed, and one day I found myself at the Wikipedia page for ukuleles where I noticed that the tuning for a Baritone Ukulele shared the tuning of the top four strings of a guitar. Inspiration struck, and I sent off for a cheap baritone ukulele, just to see if it could actually satisfy that itch to make music.

The rest is recent history. I put in some time practicing, and I found that while I still can’t make a barre chord very well, I can do it sufficiently well on four strings (where I couldn’t on six!) that I can make passable music on a uke. I spent more money and bought a better instrument, and then spent more money and got an even better instrument still, and now I make music that makes me happy on most any size of ukulele. I started collecting songs from publicly available song books, and now I can play and sing a bunch of songs that are familiar to me, and I learn and play more all the time. I joined, then quit, then joined again the local ukulele song circle group. When I was unhappy with that group I started my own. I’m good enough to teach others how to play, although not to a terribly high skill level.

When I began this particular journey, I had three goals that I wanted to achieve:
1) I wanted to learn to play without looking at my hands.
2) I wanted to avoid making that “string talk” sound that some people do when dragging their fingers on the string from one note to another.
3) I wanted to sing love songs to my wife.

Not only have I achieved these three goals, but I discovered a fourth goal. I got my wife her own instrument(s), and now instead of just me performing for her, we now play together. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun we have making music together, and sharing this activity has brought a richness to our lives that we didn’t have before.

I can’t guarantee that playing the ukulele will make your marriage stronger, but I can vouch that it has for me…

This page is authored and maintained by Rich Webb.You can send E-mail to me by following this link to the contact page. And feel free to contact me if you have any comments, criticisms, or suggestions. I remain, however, perfectly capable of ignoring your useless opinion...

This document was last modified on Oct 27, 2010, and has been viewed countless times.