May 19 to 21, 2017, the Las Cruces Ukes sponsored our first Ukulele Festival. It was a stunning success. Over 100 ukulele fans, mostly from the Southwest came to learn from guest instructors,
By the time we dispersed on Sunday afternoon, the crowd was feeling mellow, eager to go home and start practicing the new tunes and techniques we had learned. What created an added a sense of community was a workshop led by one of our members, Gorton Smith, a retired Methodist minister. We played and sang songs in a session labeled “The Gospel According to Uke.” Jim Beloff, one of our instructors, followed leading us in the playing and singing of Beatles tunes These melodies have now become classics and in their own way made us seem blessed as we departed for home.
Music has always played an important role in my life. Growing up, we had an upright piano that my mother played. Later, she insisted that I take piano lessons. I was just a so-so player and did not enjoy it, but I found it beneficial in grammar school in the 1940s. I played in the orchestra and because we had a surplus of pianists, I learned how to play the marimba, bells, and triangle. I also joined the chorus and harmonica band, and the totality of these musical experiences uplifted and enriched me. I never forgot how that music made me feel. Consequently, I insisted that my own children have music lessons. Of course they all started out on the piano, but then they branched out to other instruments.
During the late 1950s the guitar captured my interest, and a neighbor loaned me one of her guitars for a weekend. I was hooked! Not much later, (August, 1958) I was pregnant with my 3rd child and my husband and I drove to Las Vegas for the weekend. We roasted in the heat outside, but a new well-chilled Stardust Casino had recently opened, and it was rumored that their slot-machines paid off more frequently than at other casinos. My husband wandered off to lose money in other parts of the gambling club, while I stayed at the nickel slot machines. Suddenly, I hit a $25 jackpot. Bells clanged and I began to feel faint, but I refused to give in to that sinking feeling until the cashier brought me my winnings. Then I succumbed to the collapsing.
Mysteriously, a gentleman appeared, identified himself as a doctor and tourist from St. Louis, MO. He laid me down on a couch, had someone bring me water and explained that the disparity between the scorching outdoor temperatures and air-conditioned cold of the Stardust plus my pregnancy caused me to feel ill.
Suddenly, Harold materialized. When I told him about my jackpot and he inquired, “Are you going to share it with me?”
Adamantly, I answered, “No.” Instead, I used it to buy a guitar from a Sear’s & Roeback Catalog. A Silvertone guitar cost $19.95 and its cardboard case was an additional $5.95.
That purchase changed my life. I met others with the same folk music passion; I learned quickly and began teaching guitar in my home and later at the YWCA; With another guitarist we played duos for different organizations; I became a music teacher at a Catholic girls school and gave guitar lessons to three nuns; My friendship with the Sister Superior persists until this moment; On the night before my son’s bar mitzvah along with my older daughter (age 11) who sang the lyrics, I played guitar, and my 13-year-old son accompanied us on bass. We recorded, “The Day After Christmas,” written by my supermarket checker and financed by a secret backer — the supermarket manager. Can you beat that for fun?
Music still enhances my life. Although I have switched to the ukulele because it’s lighter in weight, I still perform with others, and that too, has brought me great pleasure and lots of laughs.
In a forthcoming weekend, the Las Cruces Ukes will be performing for Cancer Survivors and the following weekend, we will be playing for military veterans. Hopefully, these performances will bring pleasure to these audiences. For certain, the Las Cruces Ukes will feel enriched through sharing our music magic with them.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has passed the love of music on to her children. This makes her happy.