Tag: workshop

Venue: Corktown Ukulele Jam at The Paintbox Bistro, Toronto ON

Paintbox sign1It’s been a while since I visited Toronto’s beloved uke jam. Going strong for over 6 years now, the jam has recently moved to the Paintbox Bistro which seems to suit the event well. (This venue is an interesting venture in itself.) A clear wall separates the front of the café from the performance space so that it still feels like a part of the café but ambient sound of non-music-loving patrons, cash register, etc is blocked. And the food is good – worth having dinner there before the music starts.

The workshop portion of the evening is still lead by the dauntless Steve McNie. This particular evening the whole group participated in a kind of sound experiment that included rhythm (“the New York strum”), harmony and cameos from some stellar regulars at the jam. It was a “you had to be there” moment – really fun.

The open stage was hosted by Brendan O’Malley. I did pluck up my courage to sing an original, supported by the “A-list” musicians on stage (Richard Bales & David Olson), teased by the host that in doing so I was slightly cheating : ) Since the open mic requires performers to sign up on-line in advance, it makes it harder to chicken out at the last minute. This is more of a commitment than most open mics which might contribute to the quality of the performances.

The third portion of the evening was the group jam. This is a great place to pick up new techniques as well as new chords or alternate voicings of the old chords you already use.

Paintbox uke jam

One thing I like about this event is there are access points for participation of all levels of players. Beginner? Join in the group jam with help from Steve and the chord charts displayed on the front screen. No pressure – pull back when you’re lost, join back in when you’re able. Proficient? Bring your best to the open stage. Somewhere in between? Always something new to learn – new repertoire, theory, technique. If you want a little primer to get started visit the Toronto Ukes website.

Is this inclusive character the secret of the Uke Jam’s success? It could be the passion that host and uke aficionado Steve McNie brings to the group. There is also a sense of community. Folks here embark on music-themed adventures that go beyond the Wednesday night jam, from concerts to uke infused yoga sessions. There is a sense of mutual support and appreciation that makes it a safe place to explore, express and have fun.

[Corktown Ukulele Jam, The Paintbox Bistro 550 Dundas Street East, Toronto; every Wednesday; workshop 8-9:30 pm followed by open stage and group jam; $6 cover for workshop; $3 cover for theme night open stage first Wednesday of the month]

 

Venue: Corktown Ukulele Jam, Toronto

I visited the Corktown Ukulele Jam at the urging of uke playing musical friends.  Although the event is just approaching its 2nd anniversary it has a devoted following that results in 60-70 uke players coming together every Wednesday night at the Dominion on Queen.

The evening starts with a one hour workshop, led by Steve McNie, co-founder of the Corktown Uke Jam.  Steve is an intense taskmaster and does not tolerate any chatting or “noodling” while he is leading the group through the strumming patterns and chord changes of a new song.  He reminded me of a strict high school teacher who had had a bit too much coffee and not enough sleep the night before.  But the room of ukulele devotees takes the scolding in stride – the overall ambiance is friendly and laid back, lots of regulars but newcomers are welcome.

There is a break for people to order food, drinks and socialize (desperately needed after being on our best behaviour for Steve!).  Next is an open mic – for which you are encouraged to sign up ahead of time on-line (http://www.torontoukes.com/).  This part of the evening is usually hosted by David Newland, the other co-founder of the Corktown Uke Jam.  Other instruments may make an appearance in a supportive role (there is a regular stand up bass player and Steve provided Edith Piaf accents with his accordion) but the uke takes centre stage.  After a few performances, the evening continues with selections from the Jambook: words and chords projected on the screen, a volunteer to lead, and a room full of ukuleles and voices brings it to life.

One regular attendee is Heather Katz, owner of Broadway Music in Orangeville.  She’ll often arrive with uke accessories, music books, and could even bring along a uke for you to try if you get in touch ahead of time.  This week she gave us a beautiful performance of “Imagine” to honour the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.


Come early to get a seat as the place often fills up – besides, that will give you time to eat supper there, and the food is good.  I’ll leave you with the benediction said by all participants at the end of the evening, ukes held over their hearts:

On earth we strive for earthly things

And suffer sorrows daily.

In heaven, choirs of angels sing

While we play ukulele.

[Corktown Ukulele Jam, Dominion on Queen, 500 Queen St E, Toronto, every Wednesday 8-11 pm]