La Jollans to join British ukulele orchestra at MCASD


If you’ve been wanting to check-off your bucket list playing music at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD) Sherwood Auditorium, this may be your last chance, since the concert hall will be eliminated in the remodel and extension of the building starting January 2017.

La Jolla Music Society (LJMS) presents two holiday concerts from The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16 and Saturday, Dec. 17) where the public is invited to join in with their voices and/or ukuleles for three songs.

The music sheets for “Good King Wenceslas,” “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” are on the LJMS’s website, accompanied by a video tutorial for learning how to play each song, and a note from the orchestra that states: “These sheets show the format of the music. When you come along to play with the Orchestra, we might have some fun and do them differently, in different styles perhaps, but the form will stay the same. The chords will be the same, but there may be some surprises in the way we all sing them and play them.”

The video tutorials, which include tips for all levels of ukulele players, are not the only way La Jollans can prepare for the musical “date.” The ukulele class at the La Jolla Community Center (LJCC) held on Fridays from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m., has been practicing the three songs to participate at the concert.

Ukulele instructor James Clarktston heard about the opportunity from LJMS, and brought the idea to his senior students at the Community Center. “It’s really neat, I’m very excited about it,” he said. And so are his students, as La Jolla Light verified while visiting their class on Nov. 18.

Ukulele student Carmen Ludwig, 84, who’s been attending the LJCC class since it started four months ago, said her favorite kind of music to play is country-western, but she’s very excited for the opportunity to play with a famous orchestra. “When I heard that a ukulele group from England was going to perform in La Jolla, I was thrilled to be among them,” she added.

Clarktston explained that of the three play-along songs, “Jingle Bells,” is a favorite and the easier one to play. “Everyone has heard ‘Jingle Bells’ so many times. It’s very forgiving and we’ve been practicing it a lot. ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is the most challenging one because of the lyrics, it’s got a lot of the British vocabulary, with words you don’t use in everyday speech in America. The other song is kind of somewhere in the middle,” he said.

After this month, Clarktson continued, the LJCC class will have a monthly theme, which will be Hawaiian songs in January. Although it’s open to everyone, he said most of his students are senior citizens, and “It’s so fun teaching them.”

Two extra classes will be held 6 p.m. Tuesday, December 13 and 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 at La Jolla Music, 7423 Girard Av. taught by Clarkson to get some practice before the concert.

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain is a 10-member group formed in 1985 that reinterprets all genres of music on the ukulele. For most of their performances, they use their ukuleles, voices, bodies and whatever is available to reach a variety of sounds — think whistling — and a bass to blend the sounds into one cohesive tune with lots of humor.

For their two performances at Sherwood Auditorium, the band will perform a collection of seasonal arrangements that range from the sacred to the secular, and the classic to the new.

Additionally, the British group will offer a workshop 3:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 where they will demonstrate their approach to song arrangement, explaining the roles of the performers and how they customize their covers to achieve their unique and characteristic sound. Attendees will also have a chance to practice the play-along songs and ask questions in a Q&A session.

To support these performances, La Jolla Music Society is collaborating with La Jolla Music to offer benefits and opportunities for performance ticket holders, such as discounted ukuleles.

IF YOU GO: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will perform 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16 and Saturday, Dec. 17 at the MCASD Sherwood Auditorium, 700 Prospect St. Tickets from $30. (858) 459-3728.