Hi, I’m Camille and this is Ruby, and we’re Hi-Strung . . . that’s also the name of our band.
The ukulele was supposed to be my outlet to cope with all the holiday stress. It was suppose to balance me out as I began rewrites on my NaNoWriMo novel. But it’s suddenly become the dominant force in my world—even as my fingers start to swell and chafe, I simply must play “You Are My Sunshine” one more time!
If you’d told me four weeks ago, on the day I purchased my ukulele and attempted a “C” chord for the first time, that I would be singing in a ukulele open mic just two weeks later, I probably would’ve choked from laughing so hard, then gone back to plunking out “Frere Jacques.” If you’d said, in four weeks time, I’d be performing a 20 minute set in a ukulele showcase, I would’ve packed up my ukulele and gone back to bed.
But that’s exactly what’s going on as I type. What started out as a “hey, I hear you play the ukulele” email between me and a coworker, Ruby, turned into ukulele duo performance, complete with focused rehearsals and intense discussions about what to wear—there’s a reason our group’s name, “Hi-Strung” (coined by Rachel Wagner), works. (No, it’s not the strings.)
The first ukulele jam in mid-January was a chance to meet people who wouldn’t turn up their nose and snark about Tiny Tim, people who were just as enthusiastic about the uke as I was, and actually talented. Performances ranged from beginners to experts, playing everything from pop songs to Hawaiian standards to classical etudes to amusing originals. After introducing ourselves, Ruby and I attempted Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which, as don’t-take-my-man songs go, was pretty easy for a newbie like myself. Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” was also clutch, especially when we invited uke maestro Gus McIntyre onstage with us and had the entire room jam along. Check out his version of “Ain’t She Sweet.” Ain’t he amazing?
As the evening wound down, the group organizer approached me as asked if we’d be interested in participating in a showcase in two weeks (OMG! That’s tonight!!). “You would play for twenty minutes,” she said. She had to be joking, I thought to myself. Everyone else there seemed like a ringer. Our playing was just upstaged by our enthusiasm. But before I was even aware of it, my lips formed the words and I heard my voice say “yes,” with a confidence that couldn’t possibly have been mine. Perhaps I have one of those “Sybil” ukulele-playing personalities that only comes out for cabarets and bar mitzvahs.
I broke the news to Ruby, who, in tune with our new group’s new name, started buzzing next to me like a jack-hammer. She was over the moon. “You have stay calm,” I told her, when in truth, my own nerves are electrified. I’m learning, though, that saying “yes” leads to some cool opportunities that we may never have thought of. Just a few weeks ago, a friend sent me a message via the Twitter wondering if he should audition for a Shakespeare company, despite having no headshots or resume ready to go. I tweeted back “yes,” because “no” didn’t really seem like an option: “No, don’t follow your passions,” “No, don’t go after your dreams,” “No, just walk away from everything you love,” doesn’t quite have the same (or any) ring to it. I can only assume that he reached out to me knowing I would affirm what was in his heart.
And that’s how I got here, on a rainy, dreary New York winter’s day, counting the hours and minutes until Hi-Strung makes its New York ukulele showcase debut. I’ve heard you should do one thing a day that scares you. Somehow I’m cramming six into tonight. Just hoping that the brave, confident soul who said “yes” two weeks ago shows up in time.