the shops at wailea’s ‘ukulele mix plate: totally fun, and totally free!

ukuleleWho doesn’t love free events? I sure do. The feeling of satisfaction you gain from discovering something to do on Maui that’s totally fun, yet totally free, leaves you smiling for days. Attend The Shops at Wailea’s ‘Ukulele Mix Plate event, held several Wednesdays every month, and afterwards you’ll find yourself grinning from ear to ear.

‘Ukulele Mix Plate, co-hosted by The Shops at Wailea and Mele ‘Ukulele, takes place from 6 to 8pm Wednesday evenings in the Fountain Courtyard (except for the third Wednesday of each month, when the Wailea Le‘a event is held). Aptly named, it’s truly a “mixed plate” event: performances by renowned musicians, jammin’ by local ‘ukulele teachers, and audience participation in the form of an ‘ukulele lesson and sing-along. No worries if you don’t have your own instrument—Mele ‘Ukulele has a supply of loaners for participants to use.

Janet and I take seats in the front row, hoping it will improve our learning ability when it comes to the ‘ukulele lesson portion of the evening. Promptly at 6pm, charismatic master of ceremonies Tyrone Manandic gets things going by introducing tonight’s featured performer: Maui boy Andrew Molina. “Andrew is one of the best ‘ukulele players in the State of Hawai‘i,” says Tyrone. “In fact, this year he was a finalist for ‘Ukulele Album of the Year at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for his first CD, entitled ‘The Beginning.’”

Andrew is dressed in blue jeans, matching sneakers, palm tree print aloha shirt, and black baseball cap worn backwards. But don’t let his casual appearance fool you. This young man knows his stuff. Andrew announces he’s “going to be playing the ‘ukulele in a non-traditional way that I hope you enjoy,” before breaking into a lively rendition of “‘Ukulele Jazz,” which Andrew says is one of the first songs he learned to play.

Turning classical, Andrew says he’s going to play a piece “that’s usually performed in the key of D, but on the ‘ukulele, it’s easier to play in the key of C.” Instantly recognizable, Pachelbel’s Canon in D becomes “Andrew’s Canon in C” as he deftly strums the sweet melody that was originally composed pre-1700, forgotten for centuries, and rediscovered in 1919.

Andrew tells us that after he’d been playing the ‘ukulele for a couple of years, his father, renowned musician Jay Molina, and his group The New Project, who used to play at The Shops, would allow Andrew to come on stage and play a song. “I was so nervous,” he recalls. “It brings me back to that time whenever I perform here. It’s that nostalgia factor that makes it special for me.

“Because my dad is a musician, music has been a part of my life since I was born,” Andrew continues. “But it wasn’t until I was 13 that the ‘ukulele caught my attention. When my dad saw that I was really interested, he bought me my first serious ‘ukulele, and I haven’t put it down since. My dad is actually a bass player, but he learned guitar to back me up. Who knows, maybe he’ll even join me later this evening.” What a tease!

For his last song of the set, Andrew plays a piece he recently composed inspired by the experience of eating the second hottest chili pepper in the world. Entitled “Moruga Scorpion,” the animated piece portrays the feeling of red-hot spice dancing on the palate, as well as the sensation of a highly elevated heart rate.

The time has come for our ‘ukulele lesson. Andrew tells us the first song we’re going to learn, “You Are My Sunshine,” has only 3 chords, and that it’s customarily one of the first songs a budding ‘ukulele player learns. Three chords doesn’t sound too difficult. Until Janet and I try to finger them, that is. Tyrone has set up a giant fingering chart in front of the stage to serve as a visual for what our fingers are supposed to be doing. “Supposed to” will soon become the operative phrase!

Andrew has us start by paying attention only to our left hands. “Hold the ‘ukulele where it’s comfortable, and bend your left arm on a diagonal,” he instructs. “The first chord is C, which is everyone’s first chord. Place your ring finger on the third fret of the bottom string.” Okay, so far so good for Janet and me.

Now Andrew teaches us F chord, which involves two fingers; then G7, which involves three fingers. “G7 is the most difficult chord we will learn this evening,” says Andrew, “but it’s found in many Hawaiian songs.” Tyrone is circulating throughout the audience to lend assistance and encouragement. At this point, we need it!

Having “mastered” the three chords, Andrew tells us to now focus on our right hands as he teaches us how to strum. “I recommend using your index finger,” he says. “And instead of moving your entire arm, just use your wrist. It requires less energy, and will allow you to learn more complicated songs. With your index finger, strum in a down, down, up, up, down pattern.” We practice our strumming pattern with C chord, and it feels fairly doable. Andrew gives us more encouragement: “In ‘You Are My Sunshine’ the G7 chord comes only once at the end.”

It’s the moment of truth: we audience members attempt to finger chords, strum, and sing all at the same time with varying degrees of success. Janet and I agree we’ve mastered C chord (the one with only one finger), but that’s about it. Undaunted, however, we bravely “learn” three more songs: “Happy Birthday,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and old-time favorite “The Hokey Pokey.” With sore fingers on our left hands, Janet and I turn in our instruments, and leave the playing to the professionals!

And speaking of the professionals, Andrew is back for his second performance set, accompanied by his father, Jay, on acoustic guitar. The chemistry between father and son is palpable as they electrify the audience with spirited genre-crossing renditions of songs such as Hawaiian favorite “Hi‘ilawe,” Santana’s “Europa,” the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Tyrone periodically holds up a gigantic black & white sign with the word “Scream” printed on it, and we all happily obey without hesitation!

Andrew concludes his performance with a song he says he used to practice three hours a day after school until his arm was sore when he was building up his speed on the ‘ukulele: “Crazy G.” “When I get to the break, I want you all to yell ‘faster,’ and I will do my best to comply.” Each time, when it seems Andrew cannot possibly play the song any faster, he does so, until it seems as though he’s playing at the speed of light. Is that smoke coming out of his fingers?

‘Ukulele Mix Plate is a fantastic opportunity to experience the best of the best ‘ukulele performers in a casual setting, and try your hand, literally, at learning to play the mighty ‘uke.

–heidi pool

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