able/disabled, aging, disabilities, independence, mobility, music

“My Dog Has Fleas”**

Novice playing the ukelele.  Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Novice playing the ukelele. Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.


Last weekend I had an “Aha!” moment while attending a ukulele concert given by the Las Cruces Ukes. While listening to the music, I realized a ukelele could solve my need for music involvement, so after the concert, I purchased one.

During the Folk Music Revival in the 1950s and 1960s, I played and taught folk guitar. I consider that era as the most satisfying time of my life. Musicians trooped in and out of our Los Angeles home; students came to take classes from me; guest guitar teachers gave lessons to me and my guitar-playing friends. We verbally contracted for them to come for six consecutive Monday nights to teach us different styles: Hawaiian, Mexican, Swedish, Jazz, Blues, and American folk music. But one teacher, Marlen Rabiroff, was so outstanding that instead of being our instructor for six weeks, he stayed for three years until he and his family moved to Palo Alto.

But that was then and this is now when lifting the guitar out of its case is cumbersome and hurts my arthritic shoulders. Transporting the instrument becomes problematic. Carrying it while walking with a cane in addition to my inherent clumsiness puts me at risk for falls. Because the ukulele is so much smaller and lighter than a guitar, it seemed like a possible solution for playing music again.

With osteoarthritis and age (83), I have had to make other adjustments. I used to feed the cat on the kitchen floor. That is too tough to do anymore, especially putting down fresh water without spilling it. Now, I feed Sweetie Beattie on the back counter of the kitchen away from human food. She easily jumps up to eat and to drink from an automatic water dispenser.

Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Currently, I keep my dishes on racks outside the cupboard. If I keep the plates and bowls inside the cabinet, I must stretch my damaged shoulders and torque my body – not good for artificial hips.

Dishes stacked on the counter.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Dishes stacked on the counter. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

I avoid using the bottom drawer in my fridge because doing so requires that I drag a chair over to reach its contents. And safety bars in the bathroom and inside the shower are a must.

Back to the ukulele. I don’t know if regular practice for weekly lessons will fit into my already crowded schedule. Nonetheless, I am going to try and will let you know how I fare. Meanwhile, stay tuned!

**”My Dog Has Fleas” refers to the melody used to tune a ukelele.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who feels bereft without music.

folklore, music

Pete Seeger And Me

Pete Seeger & banjo.  Text © Norine Dresser, 20014.
Pete Seeger & banjo. Text © Norine Dresser, 20014.

I didn’t know him, but he certainly affected my life.  And when he recently died at the age of 94, I experienced a sense of personal loss and began replaying his CDs.   I mused over the impact of his singing on the world and me.

During the folk music revival in the late 1950s and 1960s, I attended one of his concerts in Pasadena, California.  I had never gone to a concert where the entire audience was expected to sing along.  He and his music exhilarated us during the concert and it had a lasting effect.

Several years later, when I led an auditorium of St. Thomas Catholic School students in singing classic American folk songs, I could understand the power of the music and the words.  I was as excited as the students.

Pete was a great teacher.  With only his voice and banjo, he educated us about racial equality, “We Shall Overcome;” injustices of the Vietnam War, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  He introduced us to the American folk music repertoire, especially the songs of Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is My Land,” as well as taught us important songs from other cultures, for example, the Zulu, “Wimoweh.”

His methods were contagious.  Group singing became such a pleasurable act for me that during the 1960s, my friend, Jan Steward, and I held alternating open houses once a week and invited folks to drop by to sing with us.  Calling it our “Friday Night Sing,” we engaged in this activity for several years.  That’s how I met Pete’s dad, Dr. Charles Seeger.  Someone brought him along to participate two weeks in a row.

Charles was a prominent ethnomusicologist.  His physical frame was like Pete’s — tall and lean, but his demeanor differed.  Whereas Pete wore the garb of the working man, Charlie dressed elegantly — often with an ascot.

One day in the 1970s as I was walking across the UCLA campus, we ran into each other.  At the time Charles was 88 and his words stunned me:  “You know, I’m building a house now.”  That someone his age was planning a future home greatly impressed me.  Subconsciously, I believe that his statement influenced and encouraged me, at age 80, to purchase a new home here in New Mexico.

One of Pete’s own songs, based on Ecclesiastes, was “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  The words include “A time to be born, A time to die.”  Pete’s turn to die has come and gone but his influence will endure.

Norine Dresser became a folklorist, in part, as the result of listening to the stories of Pete Seeger and singing along with him.