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2020 Year in Review: JHUI Graduation, Halifax City Ukulele goes virtual, more FREE YouTube lessons, and other fun moments! 

Hi friends, it has been a year for the books, but we haven’t just survived, we have THRIVED! So many great things have happened. 

This July, I was overjoyed to have been awarded my final Level 3 Teacher Certificate by the one and only James Hill at our online graduation. It was so exciting interacting with fellow educators and ukulele fanatics from all over the world via Zoom, and a little bittersweet that my five-year long chapter of active work as a student in the program came to an end. But every ending is a new beginning! And my involvement in this indescribably wonderful community is far from over. I next signed up as a mentor teacher with James’ new “Uketropolis” online community, and I’m ready, willing, and available to support new students in the program any time, anywhere.

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We charged into the summer and fall with our new format on Zoom at Halifax City Ukulele – which has had a ton of unexpected pros. Thanks to the amazing Sue Rogers from the Bytown Ukulele Group and others, word started to spread and more and more members started joining from Canada, the U.S., and even as far away as England, South America, and Australia, with current numbers topping 400 – join here for FREE today! Lots of new ideas and feedback started coming into sessions, and I started integrating YouTube tutorials to accompany our new arrangements and skills. At the same time, I learned more about technology and recorded a few multi-track ukulele pieces on my SoundCloud site. I also started down a brand new and exciting career path directing the music and band department from Kindergarten to Grade 8 at a bustling public school in the heart of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Never a dull moment, and all of this happening during a global pandemic!

“Rise” – Eddie Vedder (beginner/intermediate/advanced multi-level arrangement and lesson)

As fall made way into winter, our always FREE Zoom sessions started to become more theme based, and we had tons of fun with evenings geared toward Halloween, Remembrance Day, and Christmas. The group strummed our way through new arrangements of songs from more obscure artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Ghost, The Trews, Levon Helm, and B.B. King. Digital copies of all of these pieces can be found by joining our Halifax City Ukulele Facebook Group. We also worked on solidifying skills exclusive to the James Hill method, such as alternative “mandolin chord” voicing and ‘chord twins’ learning techniques. As the year drew to a close, our final photos started to include more smiling faces 🙂

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Who knows what’s in store for 2021? All I know is that I’m extremely grateful for all this little instrument has done for my life and career. With any luck, the vaccines will arrive, the masks will come off, and we’ll be back to our beloved Applehead Studio on Barrington Street in the heart of Halifax, singing our hearts out and prepping our next live performances. At the same time, the pandemic has provided our musical community an unexpected and beautiful opportunity to thrive online, expand beyond the maritimes, and share our love for ukuleles and friendship. I look forward to continuing to serve both aspects of our group with everything I’ve got. Cheers to a happy and healthy new year, and uke always onwards!

(February – May 2020) – Saturday morning sessions, “Zoom Room” tutorials, intensive lessons in quarantine…

February 2020 was so much fun at the studio! Before the quarantine, our gang at Halifax City Ukulele was working on playing fully realized arrangements of tunes such as “Love is Strange,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and more for some upcoming live shows around the city. We finished off our first-ever Saturday morning extended workshop and rehearsal with some coffee, donuts, and Beatles tunes:

As the March break came upon us, so did the Covid-19 pandemic – unfortunately we were unable to hold our week-long, Spring Celtic Workshops – but they will happen once we are able to return to our beloved Applehead Studio on Barrington Street! As we all bunkered down at home through April and May, I hosted four “Zoom Room” intensive sessions that focused on skills that can be tricky to teach to a large group such as ‘mandolin chord’ voicing, chord/melody strumming, dips n’ lifts, and barre chording/key changes. I have found that Zoom teaching has lots of benefits, especially its possibilities for live, interactive, “up-close” teaching. Every member present is able to see exactly what’s happening on my fretboard at close range, all in real time. Below are a few photos of our lovely members, and some of the prep mini lessons I sent out via YouTube prior to the sessions for future reference! I hope you enjoy them. As sunshine and summer weather enter the Maritimes, we’ll keep our eyes forward here in Halifax and get back to full strength as soon as we can. Lots of plans in store!

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“Mandolin Chord Voicing” Mini-lesson: (beginner)

“Dips n’ Lifts” Mini-Lesson: (beginner/intermediate)

Bb Chord Practice / Barre Chords Crash Course: (intermediate)

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(Nov – Dec. 2019) Winter Workshops: Ukulele in the Classroom / USchool / Popular Repertoire, Halifax City Uke Performs for Nov. 2019 Uketropolis Virtual Recital!

Tons of ukulele action was in store at Halifax’s Applehead Studio this season – Halifax City Ukulele’s Winter Workshop sessions dug deep into James Hill’s Ukulele in the Classroom method book and Suzanne Doane’s USchool texts. By the end of the week, these brand, spankin’ new music readers tackled, learned, and recorded two fully arranged pieces, complete with picked harmonies! Here’s our rendition of “Acadian Lullaby” from UITC.

We posted our work just in time for the November Uketropolis virtual recital (the brand new site for ukulele players and teachers, also hosted by James Hill’s online teaching community), and we were totally stoked to read feedback from ukulele mentors and friends all over Canada and beyond!

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This early winter, I also really enjoyed creating various new instructional videos on popular songs, as well as my own Virtual Recital performance on my YouTube channel – thrilled to see more hits, and I’ve been practicing my skills overdubbing with Mac software to provide students with accessible and purposeful video modeling of new skills. Check them out for free below!

Eye of the Tiger “quick and dirty” Arrangement:

Rhiannon – with melodic and harmonized leads:

Uketropolis Virtual Recital Performance: Theme from Abdelazer (arr. James Hill, variations by Bryan LaPlante)

 

(Sept – Oct. 2019) – “Gypsy Jazz” Fall Workshops and 2019 Liverpool Ukulele Ceilidh Performance!

Halifax City Ukulele just keeps on rocking! This fall’s highlights started with a week-long series of 90 minute sessions devoted to the popular music of the 1920’s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, with special emphasis on the gypsy-jazz inspired “pompe” technique pioneered by Django Reinhardt. We also studied two arrangements from James Hill’s Ukulele Jazz method book – “The Sheik of Araby” and “Ja-Da.” It was amazingly fun jamming out wartime classics such as “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen” and tons of other lounge and swing numbers with the group.

Next up was a little field trip to the beautiful southern shore of Nova Scotia for the 2019 Liverpool Ukulele Ceilidh! Several HCU members jumped on stage for the ceilidh’s first ever ‘strut and strum’ event, which invited groups from around the province to share mini-sets of their music. Our gang played their hearts out to a kind and rambunctious crowd. 

The rest of the weekend featured rich and entertaining daytime sessions of learning offered by world renowned teacher/performers including bluesman Manitoba Hal, the meditative but high-energy Stuart Fuchs, surf rock guru Mike Diabo, Australian ensemble specialists/JHUI Level 3 teachers Jack n’ Jel, and the iconic teaching team of Chalmers Doane, Angela Dwyer, and their full band. The weekend was capped off with an absolutely lovely concert that showcased all of the presenters and their diverse talents on the uke, in the heart of Liverpool’s absolutely adorable little downtown strip. So much fun!

(June 17 – 28, 2019) – Halifax City Ukulele Summer Workshops: Absolute Beginners, Intermediates, and “The Glory Days of the Record Industry, 1960-2000”

Halifax City Ukulele pushed our limits to new territory in June, extending our seasonal workshops to two full weeks of daily 90 minute sessions and including more students than ever before, some even coming from outside the city. The first week’s sessions focused on developing skills for “Absolute Beginners,” culminating with the performance of a 5-song medley that zeroed in on critical first position chording and fundamental right hand strumming patterns and positioning. We also took the time at each session to stretch, lean back and relax, and soak in some key players from past and present ukulele culture. We took the time to hear and appreciate words and music from Chalmers Doane, James Hill, Melanie Doane and USchool, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Jake Shimabukuro, Natalia LaFourcade, and more. Everyone had a wonderful time and we coined our new slogan, “I am a GREAT ukulele player!” Certificates in hand, we celebrated with a jam session on the final night that revisited the week’s repertoire.

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We then charged forward into our second week for “intermediate and ensemble players.” The sessions were a tribute to the great records, songs, and bands of yore, featuring arrangements of hits and ‘hidden gems’ that switched keys often, combined targeted skills (such as the dreaded, hand-cramping ‘B flat’ chord), and included catchy lead hooks, rhythmic tapping, flicking, and chucking, and other melodic ostinato sections. We played them all with a mutual sense of whimsy, dedication, and community. From The Grateful Dead to Heart to the Spice Girls, the experience provided participants with quite a varied tapestry of music to taste test! Here is a clip of “Runaway” from ’60s night:

“Sunshine of Your Love” – Instructional Video:

Setlists:

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Many participants chose to attend both weeks of sessions and felt like they truly learned something and moved forward as musicians, which is the paramount goal of any teacher. They also provided me with critical feedback that will help us shape possible future musical endeavors, and discussed potential collaborations involving the group and other community projects (they actually even arranged and performed a surprise and raucous version of “Hotel California” that featured new lyrics referencing our group, our new friendships, and location in Halifax!). It was a totally wholesome and nourishing experience for us all, and I cannot wait to learn even more from the upcoming James Hill Ukulele Initiative Level 3 sessions in Toronto to bring into the mix this fall. Uke on!! Oh yes, I forgot to mention that in May, I also had the chance to perform at the 2019 Memorial Cup Street Fest with the Halifax Ukulele Gang to support Matt Mays, a local legend and kind-hearted east-coast rocker in the Springsteen-type vein. So much uke’in, so little time!

(March 11-15, 2019) – Halifax City Ukulele Beginner and Intermediate Bootcamp!

Halifax City Ukulele was jam packed with new members (we just broke 100!) and four extra sessions this week during my March Break 🙂 Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday focused on introducing “absolute beginners” to the ukulele and running through the first few lessons of James Hill’s phenomenal “Booster Uke” method book. We brought it all home late in the week with a St. Paddy’s Day fun-pack of tunes including “Dirty Old Town,” “Drunken Sailor,” and more! Wednesday’s Bootcamp session invited our intermediate members to try their hands at chord/melody work, “mandolin chords” above the 3rd fret, suspended chords, and accents/slides. I’ve always felt a very strong connection to James’ “mandolin chords,” and this was my first time teaching people how to play them in depth. I think the key to success was providing multiple avenues of engagement for students including visuals (labeled photos of the chords projected on a screen), tablature, modeling, demos, and the ‘diminishing repetitions’ method.

Intermediate Bootcamp March 13

Finding “mandolin-chord” rich songs that would guide members toward seeing the real joy in playing them was also paramount – I loved James leading “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” at my JHUI 1 jam night and showing off those mandolin chords, so I arranged the song for our group as well. The group really connected to U2, which set a great vibe for the rest of the night and empowered us to tackle the less difficult suspended chords and slides in Eddie Vedder’s “Rise.”

Here, we also used photos and tab to enhance comprehension. We concluded the night with a few tougher “fun-strum” songs, where we put our new mandolin chords and diminished chords to use – the intermediate session was the most packed with material we’ve done yet, and it was exhaustingly fun! To cap off the week, we headed up to the studio on Friday evening for a social night that featured a screening of the pivotal “Mighty Uke” documentary. The film features James Hill and Anne Janelle, Lil’ Rev, John King, The Langley Ukulele Ensemble, and all of the greats as they paved the way into the new ukulele revolution! As always, we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Liam Hennessey at the Applehead Photography Studio for providing us with the absolute perfect venue for learning and sharing our musical community!

(February 9, 2019) – Halifax City Ukulele Guest Leader Sandra Aylward shows us how it’s done!

This week’s Halifax City Ukulele session down at the Applehead Studio  brought together our biggest gang yet, and featured the delightful Sandra Aylward up front to take the reins for two tunes, “King of the Road, ” and “Eight Days A Week.” It’s been so much fun spicing up our evenings with a variety of musicians and local group leaders at the helm, who have all offered fresh insights and interpretations of favorite uke tunes and techniques.

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Sandra guided us through some new strumming patterns with the songs that pushed us further than the usual “island strum.”  She also navigated us through some tricky vocal lines, and even invited her friend Denise Pelrine to solo out the intro to the classic Beatles jam before we stomped it home. I can’t wait to see what the next sessions have in store.

(January 13, 2019) – The Marigold Ukulele Festival in Truro, NS and Halifax City Ukulele guest leadership!

A hearty helping of first-rate teaching, quality musicianship, and down-home maritime charm were on the menu during this freezing, snowy weekend in Truro, Nova Scotia. Angela Dwyer opened the doors of her lovely Marigold Cultural Center for the day, hosting some of the best teachers and players around the Canadian ukulele community (or anywhere, for that matter!) After a chipper morning introduction from the legendary Chalmers Doane, where he reminded us all why we fell in love with “the little instrument that could” and traded licks onstage with his star student James Hill, the day featured three workshops that would broaden and refine any uke player’s horizons.

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First, PEI luthier Heidi Litke of Red Sands Ukuleles outlined the basics on building instruments and informed us on the intricacies of how different strings and woods will affect sound projection, tone, and action. Second, Cynthia Kinnunen‘s session had the group bopping along to a colorful variety of strumming patterns, revealing how much more there is out there for new players than just the standard island strum. Finally, James Hill illuminated the power and secrets of his signature solo playing that combines melody and harmony, tricking the ear into hearing two ukes in one. We all returned in the evening to what felt like a private concert. The event opened up with Cynthia Kinnunen’s vocal finesse and jazzy uke stylings. She was followed by the powerhouse combination of James and his stunning partner Anne Janelle. Their approachable and often hilarious “friends-next-door” stage banter, jaw-dropping talent, and unmistakeable love for each other as they stared into each other’s eyes on stage as they performed was an experience well-worthy of the standing ovation they received.

Back home down south, our last Halifax City Ukulele session featured a new initiative to include group attendees as leaders and mentors. John Macintosh stepped up to the plate this week and guided the group through his arrangement of “Ahead by a Century” by The Tragically Hip (this one hit home, since I’m a Kingston boy!)

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We all had a lovely time strumming along and sharing stories and laughs. Hoping to see this trend continue in the new year, since our group is luckily chock full of talented musicians, teachers, and friends! The festival was also a great opportunity to spread the word about our group, so we might see some more new faces on the 23rd!

(December 8, 2018) Halifax City Ukulele is born!

I have been so lucky since moving to Halifax in September. After searching around for venues and interested parties, we have finally launched a brand new adult gang smack in the middle of downtown. The amazing Liam has offered up his svelte photography studio for us to play, overlooking the wintery bustle of Barrington Street. We are learning using a combination of Ukulele in the Classroom and Booster Uke, mixing chording skills with ensemble playing and sight reading. For the last leg of the evening, we break into a specially compiled ’70s – ’90s songbook and jam it out 🙂 Participants have varied from absolute beginners and first timers to seasoned players who learned under Chalmers Doane himself. I’ve even seen a few of those rare, “Northern” ukes he designed. Right now we are getting geared up for our holiday session and warming up our voices for some serious cheer, ukulele-style! Come check out a session if you are ever in the area, or have a look at our group Facebook page!

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(November 24, 2018) JHUI Virtual Recital and Ukulele in the Classroom publication and site!

On the weekend of November 24, James Hill and his teaching team invited players from all over the world to perform their favorite Ukulele Way arrangements online! There were so many incredible pieces posted that showcased the hours of work this community dedicates to their favorite little instrument. James even posted his own entry 🙂 Here is my own arrangement of “To See Swainson” from Book 6. Apparently it has a punk-rock feel? Also do check out all of the other awesome entries on the YouTube list. What a fun way to celebrate ukulele culture!

Ukulele in the Classroom – New Website Launched!

I’m also really excited to share the brand new Ukulele in the Classroom interactive website! It includes a snazzy forum for teachers to share ideas, a cool teacher introduction page, a free and comprehensive Starter Kit, and tons and tons of free resources to launch your ukulele program today! I was thrilled to have been published under the “instrument care” section in the Starter Kit 🙂 Thanks UIC team!!

https://ukuleleintheclassroom.com/

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(November 9, 2018) Friday Afternoon PD session with Ukulele in the Classroom and Booster Uke at The Halifax Grammar School!

I am enthralled to have been welcomed into the HGS school community and to have been invited to teach an hour-long session to our wonderful faculty! Today the nine of us took a tour through the world of the ukulele, revisiting the past for some, and sparking fresh interest in a new musical adventure for others!

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We began the day by watching the trailer for “Mighty Uke,” where lots of history and many familiar musical faces of the east coast are showcased. Afterward, we dove into the “chord twins” from James’ lovely Booster Uke text, reviewed the “island strum,” and even tried our hands at a few holiday favorites. I was ecstatic to hear stories and experiences from Chalmers Doane’s musical legacy, as a few present were lucky enough to be taught by him in years past. Uke on!

(September 14, 2018) Podcast interview on “Tap, Flick” technique with Abe Deshotel!

What a privilege to have had the chance to chat with performer and teacher Abe Deshotel on his monthly podcast! Check it out here and please subscribe! During the interview, I talk about the roots of the technique and demonstrate how it is played. I also outline my travels abroad and reminisce about old friends, bands, and adventures in music as well as hopes and dreams for the future here in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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(August 7-9, 2018) James Hill Ukulele Initiative 2018 in Toronto and JHUI Masterclass!

Earlier this month, I made my annual pilgrimage home to Humber College in Ontario and happily received my official Level 1 certificate and badge from James himself! I also presented on my “Tap, Flick” technique during his first ever full-day “Masterclass.” This was a rare opportunity for JHUI teachers to showcase our original applications/interpretations of the “Ukulele in the Classroom” curriculum to James and his teaching team for smiles, fun, professional development, and feedback. I was even lucky enough to be interviewed by ukulele teacher, performer, and recording artist Abe Deshotel for his monthly podcast. Here, I outlined my childhood, international musical teaching experiences, and new transition into ukulele culture. Check it out soon by accessing his website in the link!

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The three-day event also featured lessons in absolutely priceless classical, contemporary, jazz, and big band/ensemble arrangements from the curriculum and beyond, an evening dinner/jam session (great song picks came out of the woodwork here, including tunes by The Ramones, The Tragically Hip, War, Modern English, and more), and pivotal pedagogical/business discussions and tips from James and his incredible musical family: Guelph-based festival organizer and proclaimed “Ukulele Queen” Cynthia Kinnunen, east coast Doane D6 tuning method master and cultural promoter Angela Dwyer, and a wealth of incredible colleagues and players from places as distant as Texas, Brazil, and Dubai. We even squeezed in a promotional photo for Ohana Ukuleles! It was an absolutely nourishing safari in every way, and I can’t wait to dive into my new life Halifax this fall with a full head of steam!

(May 11-12, 2018) ASFM Spring Music Symposium Features 2nd and 3rd Grade Ukulele Ensembles: “Rocky Mountain” – James Hill, “Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley

So proud of these new 2nd Grade musicians as they showcased some classic pieces in the sunshine this weekend to kick off ASFM’s Spring symposium. On Friday, May 11, the 2nd Grade ensemble was split into two groups of 40 students to perform in the brand new ASFM open-air amphitheater. On Saturday the 12th, the full 3rd Grade ensemble of 45 students brought huge energy to their performance in the school cafeteria!

ASFM 2nd Grade A-D Ensemble: “Rocky Mountain” – arranged by James Hill

 

(Feb. 17, 2018) Bryan LaPlante and Macaulley Whitlock Present “Bringing it Back to Our Roots: Sing, Say, Dance, Play!” at Live Curious, Go BeyondASFM’s Annual Tech and Innovation Conference in Monterrey!

It was an honour to be invited to kick off the second day of this hip, state-of-the-art conference for educators from around Latin America and beyond! Our goal was to awaken and unite all attendees as a community of colleagues through meditation, song, and dance before breaking out into smaller PD sessions for the day. We began by adding Macaulley’s beautiful cello work to a performance of Daniel Ward‘s soothing piece “Floating Loop” from his book, Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele.

 

We then got the crowd out of their seats and added Djambe and African beats to Musical Futures’ group canon, “Throw and Catch.” We rounded out the session with some rowdy, old-time banjolele and their “Louisiana Mud-slap” body percussion arranged into the traditional American folk tune “Alabama Gal.” For more video, check out my Twitter page! We truly enjoyed ourselves and each other, and learned so much from keynote speakers and presenters throughout the two-day event.

Winter Concert Season 2017! (12/12/17)

I am incredibly proud of all ukulele students in this year’s ASFM instrumental music program and adult “Ukulele for Teachers” ensemble. They showed us their very best as we closed out 2017 in style down here in Monterrey! Take a look through the media below to see all we have accomplished!

“Ukulele for Teachers” Ensemble performing at the faculty Christmas Posada Celebration

ASFM Winter Concert: Third Grade Ukulele Ensemble A-D: “Everybody Loves Saturday Night” – James Hill

 

ASFM Second Grade Parent Invitational Concert Series: “Safari” (James Hill) with “Tap, Tap, Flick” method.