This week I got to be a kid in a sweetshop - at least that’s what it felt like - although on this occasion I was not indulging my sweet tooth. It was my birthday and my family had put money together to buy me a ukulele. My task was to go and pick one!
Having previously swooned over the gorgeous display of cute little ukes in Inverness’s Music Shop, that was where I headed, and what an array of beauties to choose from. Where to start?!
Thankfully the Music Shop’s ever-helpful, friendly staff were on hand to advise, explaining about the variety of soprano, tenor, concert ukuleles, the different makes, those with tuners that can take a jack lead for amplification, and lots more.
Offering me a space at the back to try out a few, I quietly strummed and plucked, trying to keep my efforts out of earshot of fellow customers. While I feel most at home around instruments with keyboards, things with strings are more out-with my comfort zone and so had no wish to inflict my efforts on others.
I eventually chose one and scurried home with it, but my shopping trip reminded me how fortunate we are to have well-stocked music shops with knowledgeable staff here on our doorstep. Instruments need to be handled, tried out and played, and, for me, that means local.
The only time I bought an instrument online was when I needed - okay, I confess, wanted - an autoharp. I was unable to source one locally so ordered from a company in the USA, where they are widely played in country music and readily available. For everything else, including amplification and accessories such as leads, stands, cases, sheet music etc, I always buy local. If we don’t support our community’s shops, then they simply won’t be there when we need them.
And my goodness, our local music businesses were there when we needed them during lockdown. Both the Music Shop and Ness Music on Academy Street offered an ordering and delivery service, kept repairs going, and were there throughout, online and by phone, to help with queries, problems, and advice. These local heroes kept folk going, when lockdown saw many take up music and use the time to buy, try, or get to grips with instruments they had long desired to play.
Ukuleles are beautifully crafted little things and splendid in lots of ways. Many primary schools are acquiring them as they are perfectly suited to small hands, have a sweet sound and, with just four strings, a few chords can be quite quickly mastered.
I now have an instrument that is so much more portable than my others; I just need to learn it! With covid restrictions continuing, it could be a long winter, so if you too need a project, our music shops are a good place to start!
(First published by Highland News & Media 2nd October 2020)