Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Quantum Leap with a Low G

Vic and I were awash in sentimentality today, resulting from a visit to a local guitar and ukulele musician’s home. The sole purpose our of stopping by to see guitarist Tom Hodge was to show him a couple of ukuleles that had been gathering dust and in real need of refurbishing, now that Victoria was expanding her musical horizons with uke lessons.

Tom took one look at the weathered baritone that we had asked him to make "strum-worthy", and what followed was an appraisal that took us all the way back to the Happy Days era and beyond.

Not only that, the old timer we thought was going to be a real project - a spruce "beater" that would never attain anything better than back-up status - in the hands of an accomplished musician like Tom Hodge, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Over the Rainbow" never sounded sweeter. Something we never expected from what had been up to this point a retired family heirloom.

Grandson Joey with Len (Buddy)
As he strummed, Tom said that vintage “barrys” like ours, the largest of all ukuleles and also known as mini-guitars, were first crafted in 1948 and made famous by radio and TV host Arthur Godfrey in the 1950s. And with a newly strung "Low G", our long-time shelf dweller's tonal properties would be as true as they were almost four decades ago when Vic’s father, Len Wulff, provided a handful of enrapt grandkids musical accompaniment on any stringed instrument he thought he could play, leaving them hanging on every chord and every questionable improvised verse. To them he was Buddy, and they loved the sofa concerts as much as he loved showing off.

But beyond the history, beyond the nostalgia, what we later realized after Tom replaced the G string was that the remaining three had been strung by Len, my kids' grandfather, my best friend, before he died in 1982 - and no one had played the uke since.

Did we experience a little quantum mechanics today in that cluttered basement music room? Or just vibes fed by pure serendipity? Who knows, but one thing for sure, emanating now from this new touchstone, this old baritone, is a true sense of connection to family and happier times with each new chord.


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