So here’s the thing. Music has always been a big part of my life, whether listening to it, singing to it (not always in tune), or playing it. And while the listening and the singing (no matter how off-tune it may be) have increased over the years, the playing, alas, has not. And so a remedy needed to be found. Or so I thought.
A bit of background: I took piano lessons from the time I was six and cello lessons from age ten or so, both until I turned 16. I was quite good at the former, not as much at the latter. But I had a lot of heart. And while piano was something I played at home, I played the cello in school orchestra. Playing for high-school musical productions was one of my favorite things (and one of the reasons I know all the lyrics to so many Broadway classics like How to Succeed in Business, Pajama Game, South Pacific — talk about a party starter.)
At any rate, I haven’t really played either instrument in decades; sure there was a flirtation with an electronic keyboard a number of years ago but it it wasn’t the same. And there was an even shorter meet-cute with renting a cello after that, but the magic was gone.
But recently, the urge to make music again struck as did (or so I thought) a stroke of genius. Why not try the ukulele? One of my biggest challenges with the cello had been trying to tune it (because turning the large pegs and getting them to stay in place just never seemed to work — they always slipped). And a ukulele is small, an electronic tuner device would keep me sounding good, and how cute would I be strumming my little heart out and singing to everything from Joni Mitchell to Bob Dylan to Jason Mraz to You Are My Sunshine to Over the Rainbow to … well, you get it.
So, after poring over ukulele choices online, I finally made what I thought was a great choice (and at such at a great price!). I even ordered a song book and a how-to-play book. And while I waited for the uke to arrive, I read a lot online about the basics behind playing it. I was ready.
And then it got here. And that, dear reader, was where over the rainbow turned into ain’t no sunshine.
The first issue was the quality of the uke itself right out of the box — its paper-thin construction belied the “fine wood” description and the strings were cheap plastic. Then, after many failed tuning attempts and upon closer visual inspection, it appeared that the uke had arrived strung incorrectly — with two A strings, no C string, and the G and E strings in the wrong positions (don’t even ask how long it took to figure that out). Ever the warrior, I followed another how-to video and restrung it with the second set of strings provided, handily mastering the art of knotting, pulling, and winding-around-the-peg for all four strings (twice, actually, since the first time I tried, I strung the strings in the opposite order). Time to (finally!) play.
One strum, two strums, a couple of chords and then — what was that sound? Clamping on the tuner to check, I found that the strings had become un-tuned after only a couple of minutes. Okay, let’s fix that and try again. All four strings tuned to the green zone on the tuner. Perfect. One more time … and out of tune again, almost instantly. After another hour of attempting to play and retune, I realized that I’d been had. That the reason the uke sounded too good (on paper, not in person) to be true is that it was. That the only sounds coming out of it that were in tune were the sounds of silence. And that ear plugs were about to become my accessory of choice.
So back it went for a full refund. And while that particular ukulele was a lemon, it hasn’t dampened my hopes to make music. Maybe it’s not on a grand piano (hey, I’d even settle for a baby grand); maybe it’s not saying hello to the cello; maybe cool hand Luke the Uke isn’t in my future. But you know what? Air guitar is easy to play, never out of tune, and available at the drop of a hat.
No strings attached.
©2021 Claudia Grossman