Ukalaliens Song Circle

Uke&Sing! 3rd Mondays at Tradition in Olympia



Kate here… Memorial Day ahead. The temperature belies Spring. I’m still in my black down jacket, ducking in and out of rain showers and errands today.  Now I get to settle in for the evening.

There are two things percolating I want to write about. One is about “the one thing” that strikes me on any given day. This is a theme that has been working at a slow boil on my back burner for months now. It will need its own page…

The other is the announcement of two new blogs: mothertone –  That’s me.  A me you might or might not know.  Either way, it’s a slice of life as I know it and a possible surprise to the unsuspecting friend, acquaintance, fan or customer. Blog “mothertone” speaks from my voice as a birthmother.  I’ve been in reunion with my forty-something daughter, Cathy, for twenty-two years now.

Cathy and I have been writing Kathleen~Cathleen for seven years.  It is a memoir from two perspectives, me the birthmother I am and she as the child-in-reunion she is. For seven years we have been brewing on the same chapters, designed to describe the turning points in our relationship.  We are committed to being in relationship for life. Kathleen~Cathleen explores the challenges inherent in a long term relationship-in-reunion.

Housed in the framework, the culture of our times, we found ourselves in an undiscovered place – a crossroads with no roadmap. There was no language, literally no words, to tell us what to call one another or how to introduce each other or carry on in society. Even today, there is still no word in the dictionary for what is only recently referred to as “birthmother.”  An ancient delivery system of child to an family, the word itself seems to have been banished from a designated definition, place or description in the book of words. No discussion can exist that uses a word that doesn’t exist.  A turning of the linguistic back created an invisible wall between what is and what is not to shield the saddest of separations in the family domain, that of child from mother and mother from the child.

Cathy and I are protective of the truth harboring our relationship.  Since the conception of our book in January 2004, we decided to write freely – together – but not to share our writing with one another until we were done.  We would leave the truth of our words to describe our mutual experiences and let them grow in a  garden of chapters, unaffected and uninterrupted by the gaze of birthmother on the words of her child and the child’s eyes on the mother’s as they attempt to describe the journey from and to each other from the inside out – a memoir in duet.

Kathleen~Cathleen.  Our names are just one of many synchronicities common in our story.  “At 18” opened in labor & delivery and was followed by an eighteen year-old girl calling the adoption agency to inquire after birth records only to find that her birthmother had called the same day.

From beginning to end, this story describes life-in-reunion in the long term – after the honeymoon glow grows dim and the shadow of loss comes to anchor in grief, and the journey through the uncharted rift of relinquishment-in-reunion that comes to roost in all the colors and shades of reconciliation.

Many drafts in, the beginning is finished and our friend and editor, Barbara, hand-delivered it in New York City on Mother’s Day, two weeks ago.  For the first time, eyes and hearts will take in both sides of what we’ve each written and they will decide what we’ve got here.

We think we know what we’ve got here.

We’d like to share it with you.

So now, we’ve started new blogs to begin to talk about it.

My daughter, Cathy’s (Cathleen) is ReunionEyes and mine (Kathleen) is mothertone – our side roads from the life and adventures of she, as mother of two young sons in Portland, Oregon and me on the maternal side of the singing, string-playing songwriter you’ve been running into over music all these years.

I know it’s on the personal side. That hasn’t stopped anybody from following the thread of our history over the years – the music, the art, the writing, the shop, the stories – it’s ALL been personal – all along.

We just happen to be in a business that is about people, folks, community, music, harmony; and this is one of my stories about being a girl who came of age between two worlds and grew old(er) and wise(r) with some grit, salt, tears and laughter mixed in. It’s all in there.

If you prefer, you can stick with the music, the ukulele, the song-singing, the music calendar and not stop to worry yourself about the intrepid territory (did she say birthmother?) described there.

We’ve always been out, Cathy and me, but that’s a whisper in a noisy storm of unspoken stories shifting to be heard.  It’s been a very quiet theme all these years, decades, centuries – why yell about it now? Well, it’s too a quiet story to hold it back forever.  It may just be that the time has come to let this story out.

So this is just one way of talking about our story. Blogging from both sides is an interactive side-journal to writing the book.  The blog is one way for both of us to talk about our process and the things that we think about – inside and outside of our chapters.  We’ll write freely about mutual topics we choose. We won’t expose ourselves to each other’s views and answers to our questions in common just yet.  YOU, the reader will learn what we both think  – long before we do – and you’ll come to your own conclusions – a bit wiser than either of us. The story is bigger than the two of us put together. That’s why we decided to tell it.

Kathleen~Cathleen and the two collateral blogs are a social experiment between Cathy and me.  We have chosen to commit our experiences to words, in the hope that understanding for people affected by adoption, relinquishment and reunion, will grow and that they will be encouraged by what is possible.  Imagined or realized, reunion opens much more than a door to a greeting from a long lost relative.  It is a family claim.

Now, according to ground rules Cathy and I established for ourselves seven years ago, we are going to blog freely without visiting each other’s blogs or writing.  We are still deep in drafts of Kathleen~Cathleen. Our aim remains to remain in a free-zone from the influence of each other on our writing until we have completed the story.

Someday soon we will read it all and this part of our shared privacy protecting words and chapters will be finished and over.  Until then, we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing for a long time now. It’s a safe way for us to tell the story. It gives us the room to breathe as we approach turning point chapters in our relationship and spit out the hard parts along with the rest, some in words that haven’t been said out loud before this.

So, I hereby invite you, dear reader, to witness a previously unexposed part of the life of Kate; the Kate you know and the Kate you don’t.  My blog at mothertone will reflect the dilemmas and victories of a birthmother-in-reunion. You are also invited to Cathy’s blog and thoughts from the world of an adoptee in longterm reunion at ReunionEyes.

We hope that our work on Kathleen~Cathleen will create a roadmap for anyone seeking reunion and that it will give them courage to seek what’s possible by reading our story.

We appreciate your comments as we bring our project, book and blogs into the world. Another birth of sorts – only this one belongs to the family of man – the story belongs to all of us.

Feel free to explore mothertone and ReunionEyes for a taste of what we’re up to and respond with anything you’d like to share.  This is an interactive effort that we hope will benefit anyone interested in understanding or pursuing reunion.

Harmony is no small gift. We appreciate that much of what is discussed on these blogs may come as a surprise to readers, even close family and friends.  Please bear with us as we allow the true discussion to cross the table – if not yet with each other, then with you. We appreciate the protection of our privacy as we begin to introduce our process of writing Kathleen~Cathleen and the variety of forms its effect may have take flight.

Thank you for the incredible support so many of you have given us over the years – in our music and art – as we continue to participate in the ongoing parables of Life we share, observe and sally through as a community in art, music, heart and soul.   – kate

Days fill up and fly by with things to be done, bursting along with the forsythia bush out back, where every tiny fist of yellow petals aligning the branch angle and aim to open to the promised sun shimmering above the gray underbelly of late morning sky. I am drawn to wet metaphors from more than thirty winters in the Pacific Northwest. We live in the tear duct of Puget Sound atop of the west bank of Olympia. Watery at any excuse from above and below, the air coaxes Spring in with a flourish of color ready to unveil itself in a breathtaking entrance amidst the lush greenery saluting the puddling trails of mud and chips betwixt old growth and a new season of light looming just ahead. Anticipation feeds the breeze with buoyant strains as fingers find strings to bounce to and fro in melodic patterns and dosey-does. A small ukulele psyches to be picked up and my fingers rush to finish desk work, gather up its wee shape and croon it back to a hum with a lullaby answering the cry from the heart of it all. Life! – kate

Kate here…
Kate Power 1968
We left Portland after more than thirty years to lend support to family in Olympia. Six months later we find some of our friends and fans distressed to find us gone from our Portland perch. Over the course of the last few quick years, we sold the shop, hit the road, sold our house and moved north.

After playing the River City Bluegrass Festival in Jantzen Beach, where we encountered many wonderful and familiar faces, we discovered that a lot of people who love us, our music and our journey are wondering where we went. Don’t worry, we’re still around and the story is growing legs of its own. We’re on a quest that has taken us over 30,000 miles in fifteen months and welcomed us into communities to sing all over the USA.

Joni sings “You don’t always know what you’ve got till it’s gone” in the background as I consider these last few months and how to describe life as we know it. We get homesick for Portland and return often to play, teach and visit. With the help of our website and enews, we hope to keep up with our Portland base and to let you know that we’re back in town.

We had wanted to have a big party before we relocated. Suddenly aging family needed tending between gigs and we were tossed in a whirlwind that blew one day into another with no door to stop time, look back and reflect.

I have an old wish to have journaled every single day since coming into the heart of the music community in Portland, Oregon at Artichoke Music. That midsummer day in 1977, I ventured into a tiny little instrument shop on NW 21st named after tough little vegetable I hadn’t even tasted yet. That became a landmark day and a turning point in the map that brought me here.

Artichoke Music was just one road to the middle of my life and most heavily traveled. We intersected with so many people in that place of music. By 1994 I was behind the counter and in cahoots with the owner on strings and otherwise. Regardless of caste, class or creed, music was the common language that parlayed customers into friends, not just with mutual love for instruments but with one another and the journeys we were on. We came together in community, in marriage, in solidarity and peace marches, raffling guitars for food for the hungry and manifesting dreams we chose to try on just to see what was possible – and it worked every time.

We set a Guinness World Record singing “This Land is Your Land” with 502 official members of the “World’s Largest Guitar Band” and raised 10k to feed hungry folks at the Sisters of the Road Cafe. Every kind of human being came to Pioneer Courthouse Square that Sunday in the middle of Portland 90 degree heat – from big wild mohawks and tatoos to straight Armani suits and ties. We all sang together for a better world in that moment. Our lives had seasoned into a unique role as community harmonizers and this day was proof of the pudding. “Guitarzilla” in the square happened three days before Portland would lose one of its first favorite sons in the war in Iraq, Travis John. People came to the square in the middle of town by bus, train, foot, car and bicycle. The police were onboard and the blocks around the square were monitored without one problem erupting. The mood in the country at the time was grim and depressed; this event was something positive that we could all agree on. Sixty-five minutes later, the record was set and the Associated Press was passing the story around the globe.

Sometimes doing something that hasn’t been done before really works. Everybody wants to have fun. Everyone wants to eat. Everyone wants to do something they can feel great about. All we wanted was a good story for our as-yet-unborn grandchildren and to raise some money for the good work at Sisters of the Road to help the hungry in our town. The fine line between “the haves and the have-nots” lingers heavily in the economic climate. In Oregon, it’s the children who are affected most and on that day, a lot of meals were guaranteed to feed them.

The iconic “1st Friday Variety Revue” ran in the Backgate for years to a full house and audiences came fully prepared to be blown away. The lineup always included at least one special mystery guest who was “either the prodigious undiscovered or someone TOO FAMOUS to pre-announce for the room” was a formula that became a new standard in entertainment in town. The list of entertainers is fun to look at all by itself. It was just as fun to present an unknown centenarian on the zither followed by a seven-year old banjo player as it was to follow that with a set by Tony Trishka or Artie Traum or John Herald. Some of the most incredible music-moments-of-a-lifetime were shared among us all in that place together, awed by the beauty and kinship we discovered in the music that rang in the middle of our differences. We learned new things every day. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the heart of the people.

That was some deep bonding over all the Portland years; a bond that deepens and grows as we find our way around the world with what we learned together. Its most powerful lesson boiled down to taking what we learned and deliver it into the bigger neighborhood of the world-at-large.

Portland has watched us grow and go through a lot of intersections over the years: a marriage between two folksingers from two corners of the folk music world, unexpected brain surgery, Odetta, Guitarzilla, playing the stage on A Prairie Home Companion, the delivery of a song on a banjo in the middle of the woods from the ghost of Travis John, Pete Seeger’s love for that song and sending it to Springsteen, singing two thousand miles away in Kerrville to receive an award for a song judged to make a difference while our youngest son graduated from high school back home, Saturday song circles in back with Kate as Steve took care of folks coming through the front door from who knows where to explore instruments, a roster of music greats who came to play our stage that could fill a book all its own, and the human connection always in place, its significance burning on days like 9/11 when people flocked to the store not knowing if we were all going to survive what was coming next. We learned about harmonizing community in good company.

Now we’re traveling from home on Puget Sound. Our beloved community of Portland is still right there in first place, smack dab in the middle of our hearts. Where we land on any given night depends on where we’re working but when people ask about home, we’re from Portland and most recently, Olympia. Our sea legs have adjusted to Olympia and life on the road pretty well for now. The only way to do what we do is to go out and do it, outside of the familiar nest of home. “Home” by definition is where the heart is and for us that includes the place we came together in. The Ukalaliens movement keeps us in motion much of the time. Concerts, workshops, Steve’s art, Kate’s writing, birthing new songs and remembering old ones and the tales and times between goodbye and hello. It leaves a lot of creative juice waiting on the plate to sop up like gravy, cooking up this stew together.

It would be a lonely adventure without the warm words of encouragement and the loving support that continue to pour from our Portland community and friends. “If I could be anything, I want to be with you. I wouldn’t be anything, without you.” We’re giving what we’ve got while we’ve got it to give and couldn’t have grown such a beautiful garden of songs to pass on without the sweet side of life in the bosom of Portland.

We’re a couple of folksingers who happened to find harmony. In exchange for the gift, we make music like food and pass it on. The charm casts a spell that breaks into a natural chain reaction. Strains of “You Are My Sunshine” begins and a trembling hand begins to strum in time, remembering. Can harmony be far behind? The story between the lines comes through in the voices of the people behind the songs and light shines in their singing eyes reflecting joy and sorrow. The sonic tapestry is as different every time as it is familiar, its weft in the weave, an old song that takes us back.

So, if you find yourself missing us, please know that we miss you too. It’s a real thrill for us to see your faces at our gigs and we come to Portland so we can. Thank you. It means the world to us.

We love to hear from you and get news from your neck of the woods. Your friendship gives us courage to keep going – despite the economy, or needing wheels or hearing ominous news on the radio. We are on a track that started at home years ago in Portland. That track would quickly turn into a cold, hard trail without your genuine support and good wishes for what we do. That same track beckons us to continue what we started and to trust that as long as what we bring to the table flourishes in the hearts of the people we meet, it’s worth sharing – just to see what’s possible.

Click here for the story and video from a ukalalien with a big heart > at the Kennedy School. Thanks, Eric!

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.