The ukulele is experiencing a season of renewed popularity. With its happy, uplifting sound, is there any wonder why? It is also affordable, portable, and relatively easy to learn. Beginning Ukulele instructor Pat Klopich has been playing since 2003 and teaching since 2008. We asked him to share a bit of his ukulele story and his thoughts on the current resurgence.
How did you come to the ukulele?
I was very young and living in Los Angeles. My folks bought a black-and-white TV when they first came out and one night I watched a live show all the way from Hawaii: the Fred Waring show, Hawaii Calls. As a boy, I fell in love with the sound that came out of the islands.
Many come to the ukulele with little or no prior experience in playing a musical instrument. What is the first thing you teach a newbie when they pick up a ukulele?
Besides how to hold or strum the ukulele, I show them the relationship of the ukulele to the common piano, and the chromatic scale. We listen to the scale as we go up and down the scale of each string.
What have you discovered from teaching others to play this instrument?
I have a tendency to try to push my students into the more intermediate level, hoping to show them to not be afraid of the "scary" chord names. [Teaching others] has taught me to go slow and then slower again.
The ukulele is an instrument that has been around for longer than we realize. Its popularity ebbs and flows; from being seen as kitsch and low-brow to rounding out orchestras. How do you account for this rise and fall of public opinion?
I think the ukulele is an instrument that will find it hard to play a sad song and in these times we all need happy songs. We need to pull back some of the songs from a decade or two ago and sing our hearts out.
What's your opinion on why the current resurgence in the popularity of the ukulele?
Historically, it seems that the ukulele has come and gone about every 20 years. The roaring 20's; Arthur Godfrey in the 40's; Tiny Tim in a very small way in the 60's (I actually think he did more harm). And then in 2006 two things happened: Jake Shimabukuro played While My Guitar Gently Weeps on YouTube and it went viral. At the same time a song was inserted into the credits of two movies, that had nothing to do with either movie: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Somewhere Over The Rainbow medley. Jake and IZ became the two forces that brought back the ukulele and its Aloha sound, something we all needed to hear at the time. It has gained instant popularity and it is still growing. I am amazed how popular my classes, even on line, have become.
Are you finding music helpful during this time of social distancing?
At first it was quiet. Everyone was sad from canceling our weekly get-togethers with friends, but then little by little we have all found a way to connect via Zoom or Skype and the joy is back. It's not the same but it still heals us in the bad time.
Pre-COVID, Pat facilitated a monthly Kanikapila (jam) at the public library in West Seattle. When wanderlust strikes him, he has been known to travel down the West Coast teaching and selling ukuleles at RV camps along the way.