A show with pluck: Musical virtuosity on display at upcoming ukulele ceilidh

by Charles Mandel

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>The South Shore Ukulele Players</p>

Whatever you do, don't mention Tiny Tim.

I'm speaking with Myles Dwyer about the upcoming Seventh International Ukulele Ceilidh in Liverpool when I mention the bit about Tim (or should that be a Tim bit?).

I can hear the dismay in Dwyer's voice as he says he doesn't know what Tiny Tim is supposed to be.... Dwyer, a member of the event committee, trails off at that point momentarily lost for words.

In fact, the Ukulele Ceilidh transcends the high-pitched camp of Tiny Tim, and instead veers toward genuine musicianship and virtuosity.

Every second year since 2007 the event has endeavoured to bring together some of the best musicians strumming the small stringed instrument.

As it turns out, many of them come from Nova Scotia, a hot-bed of ukulele activity.

No one, perhaps, has done more for the popularity of the instrument - Tiny Tim aside - than Chalmers Doane, a supervisor of music for Halifax City Schools from the 1960s through to the '80s.

Doane, who headlines at the ceilidh, introduced the ukulele into classrooms as a way to entice students into becoming musically literate.

Today the "Doane Method" of instruction is administered through USchool, a registered charitable organization that spreads the gospel of the ukulele.

In large part that is aided through Melanie Doane, Chalmer's daughter, a Juno Award-winning musician, who has released seven albums and provided music fro shows such as Being Erica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Melanie will also perform at the event.

Mike Diabo is another Nova Scotian who is known for his innovation on the four-stringed instrument, treating audiences to his surf-styled music.

In 2008 he founded the Halifax Uke Gang, which at any given numbers anywhere from 30 to 60 members, and which recently played before 50,000 people as part of the Canada 150 celebrations in Halifax.

In our own back yard, under the direction of Sandra Obritsch, the South Shore Ukulele Players - a group that has as many as 30 people at one time - will show off their strumming style.

Equally talented musicians are coming from as far away as Maine and Vancouver to perform at the festival.

If all this still sounds esoteric to you, consider that the annual four-day event has previously drawn upwards of 500 ukulele fans.

This year, though, things are scaled down a bit. Dwyer reports the ceilidh is cut back to two days; accordingly, they're only expecting half as many ukulele fans to turn up at the event.

As for Dwyer, yes, he plays, but don't expect to see him perform at the event. Dwyer confesses he's not yet ready for prime time.

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