The international ukulele tuning schism, and the nature of passion

A friend called me after orchestra rehearsal, while I was sitting around the music school trying to compose something for soprano, theremin and cash register in time for my meeting with the composition teacher and asked whether I could help him hang three acoustic panels from his dining room ceiling, as he had discovered it was a three-person job, not a two-person job as he had planned. I said yes and he came over and gave me a lift to his house, and we stood on chairs and held up the panels while his wife tried to hook them to hooks he had put into twelve holes he had drilled into the ceiling, but it turned out he had measured the ceiling incorrectly and would need to re-drill the holes. So his wife gave me a lift back to the music school and I had my meeting and then drove back to his house and we tried it again and it worked fine. Then we stood around discussing whether the panels curved too much, hung the way they were, from the corners only, but I convinced him it was fine but to keep an eye on them and if the curvature increased at all maybe add some hooks in the middle after all. And we chatted and traded malapropisms like a couple cautionary characters from a 2009 remake of Reefer Madness until I raised the topic of ukuleles, because he had promised me a ukulele a long time ago because he had some extra ones left over from a class he had been teaching.

I felt kind of sleazy, basically asking for a ukulele that way, but a promise is a promise, and I had just helped him hang acoustic panels. I got my pick of white or green (I took green, since St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner) and a sheet showing tablature chords.

When I got home, I googled how to tune the ukulele after Beta complained it was out of tune and everything I played sounded atrocious (as if tuning it would make my playing less atrocious) and discovered a million ukulele sites. So I twittered Pam, who responded immediately with the information that the ADF#B tuning I was using was popular in Britain and Tin Pan Alley (and by extension Europe, I guess, Europe being an extension of Tin Pan Alley) while the Hawaiian tuning is gcea.

There is an international ukulele tuning schism, who knew? So I’m fucked, basically. How is this supposed to work? Do I use the European tuning, which all the ukulele players I know here use (my friend with the ceiling) or do I use the Hawaiian tuning, which strikes me as more appropriate for a Hawaiian instrument (although, okay, it was imported from Portugal, right, which makes it European, but today, you think Hawaii when you hear ‘ukulele’) and is used by all the American ukulele players I know (Pam)?

It would be a serious quandary, were there anything serious about my ukulele playing. I guess the solution would be to get a second uke, and learn both tunings, but who has the time for something like that? Although, dobro ukes look pretty cool.

Anyway, on an unrelated subject, my cello playing seems to lack temperament. This sort of came out during my cello lesson last night, when we worked on a tune that must be played with temperament. I spent this morning thinking about the word temperament. Is the root temper, or tempera? What about ramen?

I think the word was being misused last night, in fact, and the tune in question called for passion, and not temperament, the latter being the term for, you know, an individual’s personal combination of sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholy or choleric. I mean, okay, I tend to be pretty much a straight-ahead phlegmatic temperament with a little melancholy, more sanguinity on a good day, choleric only in traffic or when my wife pushes my buttons. But I think the tune called for passion, or emotion, and not, say, more cholera.

Cholera, the new cowbell.

My teacher tried to rouse me from my phlegma by yelling at me, and I didn’t even notice until another teacher came in to see WTF he was yelling at. What he fails to grasp, I guess, is the fact that my phlegma is the sole thing standing between him sitting on a chair in the classroom and him describing an arc to the parking lot outside.

That phlegma is locked in tight, baby.

I dunno. Maybe a little green soprano ukulele is a good instrument for me. I associate ukes with sanguinity. My playing currently sounds like cross between Arthur Godfrey and a concussion, but who knows, after a little practice?

I don’t see it solving my passion problem, though. Infusing my cello playing with passion would require something stronger, I think. Electrocution maybe. Those of you with passion, how do you do it? It seems to be absent from every aspect of my existence, at least those perceptible to me.

How is passion done, earthlings?

8 responses to “The international ukulele tuning schism, and the nature of passion

  1. anne

    Try throwing a toilet paper roll at the wall and see if your reaction is that it was satisfying, or that you wish you’d thrown a plate. Elevating the absurd by making it louder seems to be a key part of passion.

  2. mig

    I prefer to throw the cheap coffee cups you get at the rest stops here, at the floor. It was sort of a compromise, and cheaper than plates. But I stopped doing it once the shock value wore off.

  3. Ian

    You are looking for passion in the wrong place. You assume that passion is some quality that certain people have. A ghost in the machine and a category mistake.

    Passion is a behaviour that may be observed in others and has a context. Throwing and breaking things not specifically designed to be broken might not convince most observers that the behaviour exhibited is passion. Were The Who passionate when they wrecked their instruments?

    Are you sure that passion was sought in your playing of this piece, not simply feeling? So since you asked, what about taking the cerebral mind out of it, if you have enough craft and facility, and connect to the emotional. But be careful, Bono is a knob.

  4. mig

    Thank you, Ian. Part of what I have been trying to do is decide on a word, and feeling does seem a better fit than passion. My problem is, I think, a lack of craft and facility combined with a fear of competence. The tune in question is not especially hard, and I ought to be able to achieve the necessary technical ability with enough practice, which should make it possible to remove the cerebral mind from the equation and play musically.
    Interesting, though, how the fear of competence, which I had forgotten about, or never really articulated before, fits in here.

  5. Temperament is passion that is dressed to go out.

    Cholera will work just fine!

  6. Trish

    Any chance of taking the cerebral brain out of your blog postings Ian? Bono is after all, a pnob.

  7. Go with gCEA tuning. aDF#B used to be popular but it’s very rare now. I live in the UK and use gCEA.

  8. mig

    Thanks for the tip, Woodshed. Great ukulele site you have there, BTW.