Last Sunday, we drove fifty-eight miles to Hayward, California to attend the annual Northern California Ukulele Festival. I wore my Kamaka Hawaii hat, and my colorful Kamaka Hawaii dress shirt, and I had bought both items at the Kamaka store on Oahu. We try going each year to the festival and scour booths that sell ukuleles and Hawaii-themed items, and listen to ukulele music in the auditorium. I use the day to inspire me to pick up one of my three ukuleles and start playing, when I get home.
I have two inexpensive ones in flimsy, cloth cases that I bought at festivals, and one very good Kamaka model, which tends to gather dust at times.
I have always felt a sentimental tie to ukuleles after I learned that my father courted my mother in a canoe on Belle Isle in Detroit in the early 1930s, while strumming away on his ukulele.
When I was in Oahu, Hawaii in 1988, I went to the Polynesian Cultural Center run by the Mormon Church, and was standing by a canal when a boat floated by with a man strumming his ukulele. I shouted, “What kind of ukulele is that?” and he answered, “It’s a Kamaka. The only one I’d ever buy.” “Where are they sold?” I asked, and he replied, “Over on South Street.”
When I left the Center, I drove to Kamaka Hawaii, Inc. at 550 South Street, and met Sam, Jr. and Fred, the two sons of the founder Samuel K. Kamaka, Sr. I decided to write an article on the Kamaka family for the San Jose Mercury News travel section. When it was published, I was paid $150 for my time and effort, which didn’t really compensate me for my air travel to and from California, my car rental cost, my hotel and meals. I had gone to Hawaii for a vacation and to visit friends, and not to write a story.
I also bought my Kamaka ukulele for $250, and that price included a solid protective carrying case. Sam, Jr. burned the following onto the front of my ukulele just above the sound hole, “Aloha! Sam Kamaka. 9/9/1988.”
Since then, I have bought ukulele song books, dozens of vinyl albums, cds, and discs by Hawaiian musicians, videos on how to play, taken a group lesson from one professional, two private lessons from another, check instructional videos on You Tube, and have attended ukulele concerts. I have also visited the islands many times.
In the nearly twenty-six years since I acquired my Kamaka, I may have played it fifty times, or about twice a year. I get frustrated each time that I try, for my finger dexterity is lacking, and I am loath to practice. I have taken an inexpensive model when we go on an extended driving vacation, and I play for five or ten minutes at the start of each trip, before the ukulele gets relegated to the back seat.
If I really wanted to, I could have been a ukulele virtuoso by now.
I have owned my Kamaka for 9,496 days, and if I had devoted just five minutes a day to playing the instrument, that would total 47,880 minutes. That converts into 798 hours, playing just a bit at a time.
If I really wanted to be a proficient ukulele musician, I could have been one. At times I really wanted to master the ukulele, but I lacked the devotion, desire, and dedication to do so. I also let life get in the way.
Instead of playing, I devoted time to family, teaching, researching, making presentations on my research around the US, Israel and Australia, traveling around the world and other places, playing table tennis, and living. Writing also consumed much of my time, and that’s what I am doing right now. I have spent hours trying to get this piece to sing, the same way I have done with countless other articles and blogs. I also spent more than 950 hours working on my first book The Oy Way, and am now working on my second book, My Incredible Odyssey.
Although I have failed to learn how to play the ukulele, buying my Kamaka back in 1988 was a good move. After talking with Chris Kamaka at the recent Ukulele Festival, I learned that my Kamaka is now selling for $895. However, I have no intention of selling it for a profit, since there is still time to learn how to play it, if I really want to do so.