I have a complicated relationship with the ukulele

By Hadassah Umbarger, Staff Writer

I didn’t want a ukulele for Christmas.

Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s complicated. You might want to grab a seat for this.

I’ve not really ever been musically inclined. I took piano lessons for a few years, and while I didn’t mind practicing every day and hanging out with my piano teacher for an hour a week, it wasn’t my favorite thing.

No other instrument has really ever grabbed my attention. That is, until ukuleles came along.

I don’t know where I first was introduced to ukuleles. I remember at a lock-in in high school passing a girl sitting in the hallway playing “Riptide” by Vance Joy on her ukulele. Maybe that made an impression on me.

My best friend has two ukuleles (one of them is named “Nuke-ulele”) and she brings one of them basically wherever she goes.

And ukuleles are kind of adorable, guys. The most popular size is around 20 inches long, and they only have four strings (compared to the six strings of a guitar) so they’re easier to play.

But I was determined to never get an adorable, bright and cheery, baby blue ukulele.

“But why not, Hadassah?” you may ask. “Obviously you’re interested in ukuleles, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Well here’s the thing: My aversion to ukuleles stemmed from the fact that they were so popular. I was interested in the ukulele itself, but (as terrible as this sounds) I didn’t want to be a part of the trend with all those other people who play the ukulele.

I stayed away from it. I did not want to be that teenage girl playing “Riptide” or “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. I wanted to be Hadassah, and Hadassah was definitely not one to give into trends. Hadassah doesn’t have any scrunchies or Hydro Flasks or Birkenstocks, so why would she get a ukulele?

And then my little sister wanted a ukulele for Christmas.

I helped mom find one on Amazon for me — I mean her. It appeared on the doorstep, and I wrapped it carefully and put a big ol’ bow on it. On Christmas morning, when Orly unwrapped it, mom made sure that she knew that the adorable, bright and cheery, baby blue ukulele was for all the girls (me, Orly, and our two sisters) to share.

I would like to tell you that I’ve never played “Riptide” or “I’m Yours” on it. I would like to tell you that I did not make my arm sore one day the week after Christmas when I played it for more than an hour straight. I would also like to tell you that it does not make me happy in a way that other things never have.

It is extremely easy to play. On the first day that we got it, I was able to learn a song. Once you have a handful of chords memorized, the wide internet is willing to give you the ukulele tabs for basically any song you can think of.

I’m still not at peace with the fact that we own a ukulele. My brother makes fun of me when he sees me playing it. But maybe there’s a reason that they’re popular. Maybe all of those girls singing “Riptide” and “I’m Yours” were onto something that I wasn’t able to see because I was judging them for being part of the cute, high school girl demographic.

In the meantime, I’m going to learn songs that aren’t as popular on the ukulele (I’m mastering some Avett Brothers and Regina Spektor songs) and I’m going to keep playing my — sorry, our — ukulele. Because even though I hate giving in to a trend, playing my ukulele badly makes me happy. And goodness knows that we could all use a little extra happiness after 2020.

PHOTO: Hadassah Umbarger, Staff Writer