This post is part 3 of 11 in the series, “Marvelous Midwest,” about discovering my extended family in Indiana and “ukeing” it up in Missouri.
For those of you joining this miniseries midstream, let me catch you up.
My husband Craig and I flew into Indianapolis from Los Angeles. My first trip to the “middle.” We met and totally fell in love with a branch of my family that, up to very recently, I didn’t even know existed. And visa-versa. It’s an interesting story, a how-we-got-here-from-another-country story. Click for the details.
Then we aimed our rent-a-car west into the “Show Me State,” Missouri, for the Mighty Mo Ukulele Festival where we gave workshops and headlined the Saturday evening concert.
It was a short whirlwind of a trip, only nine days. But life-changing. These first blogs are about my family and the later ones are about the lovely people who are part of the red-hot ukulele renaissance that has gone global.
Patricia is the matriarch of my newly discovered family. She married my great uncle Sidney, the violin virtuoso and they made their home in the Midwest. But Sidney died very young and this remarkable woman went to work, as a professor of music at Ball State. For forty years. Summer breaks she drove to Colorado to play the violin in the symphony during opera season. And with the help of her extended family and family of friends, she raised five exceptional children. Musicians all. My cousins.
On this trip to Indianapolis, I am meeting Patricia, two of her daughters, Noelle and Blythe, Dan-The-Hunk (Noelle’s husband), Anthony, their tennis-champion son, and wild and wonderful Lexi, Blythe’s son. Gather these people in one room and let me tell you, it’s a party.
And party we do, our first night with THE FAMILY. Jet-lagged, bedazzled and pinching myself so I don’t think I’m imagining all this, we gather around a gigantic mouth-watering salad of everything-but-the-kitchen sink.
Of course we talk about music and the family and the weather and music. And music. The ghosts of Beethoven and Handel and Mozart are hovering overhead. Then Craig and I grab our ukuleles and share a little aloha. These accomplished classical musicians are generous with their attention and genuinely interest in our wonderful little instruments.
It’s funny, but when people “dis” the ukulele, they say something nutso like, “aw…it only has “four strings,” I remind them that a violin has four strings and so does a cello and a bass. Okay you won’t find a cello for sale at Toys R Us or Costco, but there are virtuosos out there who make one ukulele sound like an orchestra.
I’ve been working on an arrangement for “Dueling Banjos” where, if you pardon the pun, I play with myself. On one ukulele. It’s not quite under my fingers yet, but I know from experience that when I play something in front of other people, and make a mistake, that is one mistake I won’t make again. Granted I’ll make other mistakes, but something happens in the synapses of my brain when I goof up “in the village.” It’s a painful but thoroughly effective way of learning.
So I launch into the familiar Deliverance Theme “da-da-da, da-da.” And oh, I’m doing so well too. Until I get to the big finale. That’s when my fingers go right instead of left. What is supposed to be a foot-stomping WOWEE moment ends in a thud.
There is a second or two of silence. But it’s okay because everyone in that room makes mistakes and then begins again. That is what is all about, being a musician. Very softly, and in a way that is so kind, Patricia says “now just do that ending again.” And this time I nail it. Ever the teacher, this one, and by the end of our trip, my new mama too.
Our last day in Indianapolis I give her a great big hug “goodbye” and tell her she is like a mother to me and she replies “and you are my daughter.”