Discovering the Ukulele – back to basics.

Angela Slater reflects on her process so far on her Adopt a Composer pairing with The Lincoln Ukulele Band.

This blog post has been a long time coming as it was put on pause while I have been finishing my PhD. Thankfully that is all handed in now and I feel I can focus on my composition projects whole-heartedly again, which is a wonderful feeling!

In our first meeting The Lincoln Ukulele Band generously gave me a Ukulele not just for the project but as a gift to keep which I am most grateful for! Thank you!

As I am going to be writing for 50 something Ukuleles it only seems right that I try to learn how to play the instrument so it can inform my compositional practice and method.

I’ve self-taught myself to play instruments before such as the clarinet, cello, and even the mandolin when I was younger. Although I have a reasonable knowledge of string instruments the Ukulele seems quite foreign to me due to its unusual tuning. It is tuned using re-entrant tuning – instead of the normal low to high pattern it goes high, low, slightly high, and high again – string G C E A – with the two outer string being a tone apart. This natural close dissonance in the tuning of the instrument is fascinating and is something I will explore compositionally.

Composer Angela Slater with her uke

First workshop with Lincoln Ukulele Band (November 2015)

Though this was quite a while ago now I can still remember this very clearly as it was a very stimulating evening with The Lincoln Ukulele Band. This was my first visit where I began to work on some of the sounds that may find their way into the final piece. I met with my mentor David Horne beforehand and showed him some of the symbols I had come up with for different techniques on the Ukulele.

I first took the group through a series of rhythmic and vocal exercises which were great fun and certainly seemed to get everyone relaxed and not being overly self-conscious. The group are very strong singers which was evident when I asked them to sing down a scale independently of each other, the effect was wonderful and therefore I certainly think some aspect of this will be making its way into my piece.

The group are perhaps less confident when it comes to rhythmical challenges but I am aware that this is something Will (the leader of the group) is keen to develop with them. I have therefore written quite a rhythmically challenging section to the piece, which I hope they will enjoy.

I have also made lots of different symbols for unusual techniques and sounds that the Ukulele can make. I was very pleased to see the openness to these unusual sounds the group showed and how effectively they could execute these very new and different styles of playing the Ukulele within a relative short time.

Adopt a Composer - uke board

It has been a little while since I’ve seen The Lincoln Ukulele band and I am greatly looking forward to seeing them very soon. I have been in good contact with Will and sent him the challenging rhythmic section of the piece, which he has been gradually introducing to the group. I am going to be visiting them very soon to see how they are getting on and continue to explore some more sounds for the other sections of the piece!