Since we got locked down (locked in, maybe?) in the middle of March, our engagement with the exterior world has radically changed. Out less (not at all if you can help it, or once a day for exercise), not in groups, working from home, or perhaps furloughed. I don’t know about you, but I was online much more – for work, for social interaction, for entertainment, and of course the necessary doomscrolling, where we let the wash of awful envelope us with a relentless swish of the thumb. It’s been a time, and we’re not even out of it yet.
But alongside the well-intentioned physical habits we’ve been encouraged to take up – the daily constitutional or, when that doesn’t manage to happen, running up and down the stairs several times – and the Calvinistic improving ones (in my case, Spanish on Duolingo: going for a 90-day streak tonight!), I picked up an odd one: ukulele videos. It started at Easter weekend, when I decided to share some original songs of mine in an immediate fashion. “Daughters of Etobicoke” was written on Maundy Thursday, “Mercy” on Good Friday, and then “A Passionate Year” which was not written on Easter but name-checks it in the first line (“There’s a lesson we learn every Easter…”)
It was fun, and I fancied I might keep going for a while. I even gave it a hashtag, #UkuleleLockdown, which had been *very* lightly used at that point by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and someone who was learning the instrument during lockdown. It existed, but not in a major way. I learned that you can post a video directly to Twitter so long as it’s 2:20 or fewer (140 seconds, which parallels the number of characters you were originally allowed in a Tweet, in case you’re baffled at the seemingly arbitrary figure). That was a constraint I could work with, which made recording on the ol’ iPad pretty easy. I kept it pretty low-maintenance, so only one or two takes unless I was really struggling, and just a minimum edit, topping and tailing to make it fit and sometimes fading out at 2:19 if the song couldn’t be shoehorned into the time constraint. Even with the slow upload onto Twitter and Facebook, the whole thing could be accomplished inside half an hour.
Some people – especially those who would not identify as ukulele lovers – asked why: why this instrument, why this vehicle for sharing? Well, I didn’t want to obsess over a high-quality output, because I’ve put studio-quality recordings together that I have spent some time and effort on. This is meant to be free, quick, and easy. Maybe it’s a pick-me-up for someone (the ukulele is famously cheerful), and maybe some friends and family will make a point of tuning in. The smallness of the instrument and the enterprise gave some unity to the project, and it was something I could do every day.
And every day I did, bar one, up until last Thursday. Continue reading