New interview with the amazing multi instrumentalist and ukulele teacher Anne Ku.
1) Hi Anne, can you tell us when you started playing ukulele?
I bought myself a Tiny Tenor (Romero Creations) for Christmas 2015 and taught myself, in order to enroll in my colleague Joel Katz’s Intermediate Ukulele Course at University of Hawaii Maui College in January 2016.
2) Prior to ukulele, you played the piano to a very high level, what inspired the change of direction ?
Different people over the years thought I’d enjoy picking it up while I was living on Maui but despite living next to a ukulele builder and having colleagues and students who played it, I didn’t get persuaded until Daniel Ho told me he had designed special ukuleles that he thought I’d like to have. That acquisition opportunity together with Joel’s course in my final semester working at the college motivated me to try it. One of my students gave me a ukulele stand he made from tropical hardwood. I must say, the ukulele was not on my radar screen until I had decided I was leaving Maui.
3) How would you describe your playing style?
I can’t say I have a style yet. I love to pluck and play in an ensemble as well as jam with other people. I wouldn’t say I’m a soloist.
4) Are you a high g or a low G person ?
5) Apart from the obvious, what are the differences and similarities between playing the piano and ukulele ?
They are worlds apart. The piano is a symmetric instrument. One-to-one correspondence. As a pianist, I never bring my instrument anywhere. I learn to adapt to the piano at the venues where I perform or teach. The piano is a black box, hands off. I always rely on hiring a tuner. Meanwhile, holding any instrument, especially one as small, light, and portable as the ukulele makes it a more intimate relationship. With so many ukuleles “living” under my huge fireplace in Boston, I think of them as choosing clothing from my wardrobe. Which one do I get to hold and travel with me today? I’m fascinated by how quickly a complete novice can learn music through the ukulele and get immediate gratification, compared to learning the piano.
6) What size ukulele do you prefer to play?
7) Do you have any preferred makes of ukulele?
8) How did you get into teaching the ukulele ?
Initially, I gave free individual lessons to friends, family, and neighbours to share my enthusiasm and develop contents of my new book. Eventually I started giving group classes (one-off workshops) to grow the number of ukulele players to join our new ukulele club which I started in this part of Boston. This year I launched ukulele courses and started teaching at adult education centers (evening classes). I get a lot of feedback which helps me develop my instructional material.
9) You have a fairly ‘academic’ background in music – much more than many ukulele players. How do you feel this affects your playing and teaching style ?
Adults like to ask questions, especially those that begin with “why” -- which can only be answered by music theory and music history. Out in books, videos, online tutorials, I notice there are plenty of what and how to play but not why. I like explaining the why of harmony, rhythm, etc. I also love doing research, comparing song sheets, and making arrangements to simplify and fit the student’s skill levels. For instance, I reduced “Autumn Leaves” from 11 to 5 chords to use it as a theme song for an event last November, much more palatable for 40 ukulele players than the original version. I love sight-reading (my piano teaching diploma thesis focused on this subject), and it’s fascinating that ukulele players sightread songsheets!
10) Something that always intrigues me is who people’s influences are. Who are your favourite artists and who are your favourite ukulele players?
I’m afraid I’ve not been in the ukulele world long enough to have a favourite artist or ukulele player.
11) In an imaginary world - If you could drive anywhere in the world, what car would you drive, where would you go to, who would be your passenger (it can be anyone who has ever lived) and what would you listen to on the stereo ?
I’d drive a red convertible across America to the places I haven’t been and listen to the Go Go’s, Journey, ABBA, and my favourite bands from the eighties.
12) Finally, what does the future hold for you?
I’d like to get my book published. Go on a tour with it, conduct workshops, form and lead mixed ensembles, get people engaged with participative music making -- not just ukuleles though the ukulele is a fast and empowering means to get there.