Headmaster’s Thoughts – December 2012

I recognize that it is possible that many of you may not have heard of it, but I believe that the “Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain” is one of the world’s great orchestras. They come to New York once every other year and play at Carnegie Hall. This year, Jayme and I were privileged to be sitting in the middle of the front row; Jayme was given gifts by one of the band members, which included a plastic model of a James Bond car and a signed photograph of the shoes of the members of the orchestra. Strange but true! I had wanted to take one of my baritone ukuleles to join in (this was encouraged in the program), but Jayme thought that I would look ridiculous carrying a baritone ukulele in the restaurant we ate at before the concert.

If you wish to watch this amazing group, they are featured on YouTube. Really featured! Watch their version of “Life on Mars.” Amazing! Their humor and skill have made me a devotee for many years. I share this with you hoping that you might look them up on the Internet and even pick up a ukulele (they cost about $30 and up), joining the rising number of us who play and enjoy this extraordinary instrument.

York Prep has a Ukulele Club that meets on Mondays, and–bearing in mind our honey production–my dream is for us to play the “Flight of the Bumblebee” (a very difficult piece) by Rimsky-Korsakov on our ukes.

One of my daughters and I would belt out songs when she was a teenager, she on the piano and I on my uke—60s songs like “Be my Baby” or “The House of the Rising Sun.” The rest of the family retired (quickly) to listen to anything else but my awful voice. For some reason, she and I remember those occasions with enormous nostalgia (she is now a mother of three). One of the great things about a uke is that you can play it badly and get away with it, sing along and no one cares how bad your voice is, and throw yourself into it without worrying that you will be judged on too high a level. You can probably get through most songs knowing only six chords (all of which are easy), and strumming is natural if you let your inhibitions go and use your whole arm.

Physics being physics, there are few things one can do all of one’s life. I stopped playing rugby at about 23 (I was never that good), I stopped aggressively riding horses on an almost daily basis when I was nearly 60 (I actually was quite good), and I cannot remember the last time I put on spikes and sprinted on a real running track (I was fairly good).

The first thing you will notice is that I was never great in any of these activities, and the second is that they all have a time window. But ukulele playing does not! When the time comes and they take me drooling to the “home,” roll me out in the sun in a wheelchair, and cover my legs with a blanket, I hope that I can still belt out some Beach Boy number on a uke. Loudly! I know that I will annoy the heck out of the other residents in the “home,” and I suspect that probably will be the prime objective. I will have finally come into my curmudgeon heaven. Strum on!

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

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