Kate here … A year ago, on October 1, 2009 to be precise, Steve and I hit the road in “Modoc”, our Ford Econoline Airstream, to introduce our new book/cd and initiate non-musicians to singing and playing on ukuleles. Our van was stocked over the cab with boxes filled with the Ukalaliens Songbook, 26 extra ukuleles, our guitars, banjos and CD’s, as well as food and clothing for living on the road. It was a great experience.
We met good people in every town and experienced the nation from the perspective of two folksingers traveling through. West coast, east coast, the Rockies, the north, the south, the mid-west, floridian southeast, the southwest; we found ourselves falling in love with every flavor of place we traveled through. The advantage of a traveling life is that it moves you forward into new places, out from the familiar and into new ground. We turned thousands of people on to the joys of making music. The fun result of our mission to convert people to their musical sides has propelled us to destinations we would never have considered before. We have covered over 27,000 miles since that date a year ago. It has been (and continues to be) a true adventure every day. We came back with an expanded community around the country, a million stories, new songs and two new Ukalaliens DVD’s about to be released by Homespun in Woodstock. Our appetites were prime to continue what we had begun.
We also had developed new projects to work on. So many inspirations, so little time! So we needed a place to work off the road for a while.
After working around the country playing concerts, teaching and sharing ukes, we came back to Portland. Living in 72 square feet across that much open land over that much time shifted our points of reference, our relationship with nature and proximity to our work and play in the community. It was subtle but real. Our big Portland craftsman house felt cavernous on its noisy city corner. Living there for sixteen years had numbed our ears to the street sounds as we lived our day-to-day. Coming back to our old home with fresh ears and months on the open road, the city felt tighter with congestion and the house too big for us to use.
So we sold it to a friend and looked for our next home base. Quality Folk remains an Oregonian business. We love Portland and the deep community and family we have there. Our history of the past several decades unfolded there. We also had family living in Olympia and decided we needed a smaller town to live in for a while. So we packed up our things and moved to a little cottage on Puget Sound. The air is salty here, reminding me of childhood mornings on Cape Cod, and has the feel of a fishing village peopled with environmentalists, “Greeners” and progressive folk. It’s a place to catch our breath and dive deeper into the work of a dozen projects, booking shows and scheduling workshops to travel to from here. Pacific Northwest, west coast, east coast and maybe the UK in 2011/2012 – booking takes time, too. If you contact us to book us, that’ll save time! Meanwhile, we travel to Oregon every week or so and operate our business there. We may move it out of Portland but it will remain in Oregon – in time we may be back!
Quality Folk, Ukalaliens and “community harmonizers” are three monikers we use to try to describe our work in the community, our role and mission to refresh the public’s memory for making music. High art, low art, folk art. At the heart of our delivery stands a pair of lifelong musicians with a hankering to share the pure joy of making music with the uninitiated. Making beautiful music does not need to be complicated to be good. Iconic artists are unique and gives us something to aspire to. In our concerts, we strive to share our best material in our best voices with our best instrumental abilities. In our workshops, we share how we began to make music so others can make their own way from there into their music. Music is personal and different for everybody. We like lighting the wick and getting people started. It’s a beginning and that’s often a memorable moment in a musical life – like a first kiss or first ride on a bike – you never forget the first time.
On the one hand, our songs and music are a byproduct of a life we’ve been expressing musically for years. Steve and I were each young players on the stage, starting out professionally in our early teen years. The satisfaction that has come from sharing that music comes from the song itself and the warm response of people who have been moved by it. It’s a natural act and very human. It connects us with people and communities everywhere. The enjoyment of the music itself sustains us even when circumstances don’t.
The irony of musicmaking is that, when all is said and done, if the world was suddenly unplugged and there were no stores or downloads to find it, it can still be had by picking up an instrument to play and opening our voice to sing. It’s natural.
Sometimes the singing comes all by itself and it’s enough without the addition of instruments. Songs and tunes start in the heart and come out in our throats and hands. Irish seanos singing is unaccompanied and revered for its purity. Gregorian singing is unaccompanied devotional singing that spurns egoic ornamentation. The pure drop in music is the music itself. The genesis of making music is a gift waiting inside each of us to be used. Our bodies and imagination tangle together in cahoots over notes that rise to become songs and compositions. It’s organic and is affected by mood, color, space and volume. We are naturally musical around babies and children and sing to them freely, making up lyrics about whatever it is we are doing with them. Learning to sing and play with each other as adults takes more trust. The work we’re doing with the Ukalaliens creates a safe haven for people to grow their musical sides. It seems to be working pretty well so far.
The mindset in our culture of exclusivity from people making music together began with the beginning of media. The minute sound could be captured, it became a substitute instead of an act and the line of demarcation was drawn between doing it ourselves and pressing a button.
In the old days, people gathered around the hearth and entertained themselves with songs, stories, recitations, poems and jokes. Years ago in the west of Ireland, I saw this in action and its inclusive nature rang a bell for me. Instead of being “special” enough to entertain, everyone had something to offer and was encouraged to share it with the circle of neighbors and strangers in the pub. The only thing you needed to be was willing. There was no talent meter. Honoring the song, the story, the poem or the joke lay in the act of sharing it. This revelation moved me to ponder.
There was no competition, thrashing, or dominating the group with volume. People actively LISTENED to not only the song but to each other as they harmonized, played and sang along. Without listening the song loses its beauty, momentum and prominence to the foibles of ego and frustrating mediocrity. Being from a large family, I was raised with egalitarian rules, the dominant one being that we were all of equal value and no one was better or worse than the other. In fact, we were in varied and different in our degrees of ability, talent and interest but when we sang and played together, it was to be harmoniously and the only way to accomplish that was to primarily LISTEN to each other and secondarily find our parts. We were taught to serve the song first and foremost. It wasn’t about us, it was about the song. That was lesson number one. Children of large families are very competitive by nature so this was a valuable lesson and it has helped me inside and outside of the music realm. Making music in a group is cooperative social action. The more beautiful it is, the more harmony is felt, not only in the music itself but inside the people who make it.