An Interview with Moses Kamai Director of The Northern Virginia Ukulele Society

Moses Kamai is the Director and Organizer of the Northern Virginia Ukulele Society, for the past 5 and a half years in Reston, Virginia. He organizes, plans, teaches, and performs with members of the Northern Virginia Ukulele Society. He is also responsible for membership growth, helping members improve their musicianship with respect to the ukulele, and coordinating, planning, and promoting ukulele related events and associated ukulele artists. He took time out of his busy schedule working in IT during the day and playing ukulele in his free time to answer our questions.

Moses

Moses Kamai.

What is a ukulele?

The first question was a bit tough because there are a number of different ways to answer it. The simple answer is a huggable, small, unassuming 4-string instrument that has lots of music inside. It is also a 4-string instrument with different tunings and shapes.  Includes soprano, concert (also alto), tenor, and baritone ukuleles.  Soprano through tenor typically tuned in gCEA and baritone tune as DGBE.  Baritone is very similar sounding as the guitar. It is also a 4-stringed instrument originating from the Portuguese island Madeira, but popularized with flair by the Hawaiians at the 1915 World Expo in San Francisco, CA. King Kalakaua invited these Portuguese, much earlier, to come to the Hawaiian islands because there was a famine that part of the world and they had something to offer as furniture makers.  The one who is credited with introducing the ukulele to the islands was Manuel Nunes who arrived on the Ravenscraig. Today, the last remaining ukulele maker from that time is Kamaka Ukulele, which is now run by the grandsons of Samuel Kamaka.

When did you first fall in love with the ukulele and how and when did you learn to play it?

About 8 years ago. I’ve always played, but never studied music. Prior to that was mainly just strumming along with just a handful of chords.  Studied the instrument and music theory as much as possibly can as a hobby – I’m not a semi-professional or a professional musician.

Who are your favorite local ukulele players?

Lots of them. Top of the list are Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, James Hill, Herb Ohta Jr., Jake Shimabukuro, and Victoria Vox. Each of their particular area that I like from ability, entertainment, and pedagogy.

What is the ukulele club? What are your goals and mission of the club?

Northern Virginia Ukulele Society [NVUS](formerly Northern Virginia Ukulele Ensemble [NVUE], but we’ve retained that name). -To stimulate interest, promote, educate, socialize, and demonstrate the musical arts surrounding the ukulele and generally to further the appreciation of the ukulele, including without limitation by means of educational programs, workshops, concerts, and similar events and activities.- -To be a social organization for the exchange of experience, knowledge and camaraderie relating to the ukulele. -To engage in affairs of interest to the membership so long as these activities are otherwise consistent with the Corporation’s nonprofit tax-exempt status. -To promote favorable relationships with the public and other music enthusiast clubs or organizations. In hopes that allow us to: -Cater to all levels of music ability from beginner to virtuoso -Learn, or try to learn how to play a variety of songs.

Are there local ukulele programs and events and teachers you can recommend?

There are not any routine ukulele programs (e.g. school programs) — maybe in the future. One of the members works with the 4th Grade music teacher in Berryville, VA where ukulele is used as the music instrument of choice.  There are also evangelists like Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer that promote Jams:

** Maryland Uke Jam (sing-alongs and jams)

** Hawaii State Society Ukulele Hui (group)

Events:

** Lake Anne Ukulele Festival (annually on 2nd Sat in Jul) – Reston, VA

** Strathmore Guitar and Ukulele Summit (annually in Aug) – Silver Spring, MD

** Virginia Ukulele Fest (also known as VA Uke Fest) (annually in Nov) – Richmond, VA

** NVUS 4th Sunday Ukulele Open Mic at Cafe Montmartre.  Other instruments welcomed but must feature an ukulele in each song of their performance.

Teachers:

** House of Musical Traditions: Marcy Marxer and Maureen Andary

** Middle C: Maureen Andary

** Northern Virginia Music Center: Moses Kamai, John-David (“JD”) Sayle

There are stores with ukulele teachers, but I don’t know them nor do I see them in the ukulele communities or events.

Why do you think people love the ukulele?

A happy sounding instrument. Seemingly simple to play and enjoy.  Inexpensive to get started.

What other instruments do you play?

Guitar, been working on Bass (UBass and KonaBob Walking Stick Bass Started learning Tenor Guitar and Hawaiian Steel Guitar, but my love and focus is on the ukulele. If interested  in learning the ukulele or to just come watch some ukulele jams, check out The Northern Virginia Ukulele Society. They meet the second and forth Sunday in Reston, Virginia.


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