With A Ukulele Night to Remember, Daphne Roubini intends to show that music can truly make the world a better place, and that just about anyone can do it.
If there’s an overarching message in Daphne Roubini’s upcoming A Ukulele Night to Remember show, it’s that sometimes you need to try and make the world a better place.
So it’s not by accident that the event will feature such decidedly positive standards as John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Even though a week will have passed since Remembrance Day when 50 ukulele players take the stage in East Van, the spirit of the show is very much in keeping with the day of reflection that is November 11.
“It’s going to be an evening of remembrance, peace, and harmony,” the Vancouver-based Roubini says in a phone interview with the Straight. “It’s recognizing that we need something uplifting at this point in time. There are so many wars still happening around the world, so we’d like to focus on peace.”
There are two A Ukulele Night to Remember shows, each divided into two sets, the first featuring Roubini and Andy Smith performing as the old-timey ukulele act Ruby & Smith, accompanied by Patrick Metzger on upright bass.
“It’s set up to be an evening of exploration,” Roubini says. “Ruby & Smith will be exploring, with some original compositions, what the ukulele can do in terms of jazz and folk.”
The second portion of each show will spotlight a sprawling orchestra made up of students Roubini teaches in her Ruby’s Ukes classes that run across the Lower Mainland. Conducting the group will be Vancouver’s Tim Tweedale, who also helped arrange the songs—including Led Zeppelin’s fabled “Stairway to Heaven”, the Wailin’ Jennys’ “One Voice”, and the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”.
“The orchestra will be exploring what an ensemble of players can achieve with the ukulele,” she says. “It’s a 50-piece orchestra, and many of them started from scratch, not playing anything. They’ll be playing four parts for a really epic version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ that they’ve been working on. It’s fun, but they are also very, very committed. They are students, but for an amateur orchestra they are doing brilliantly well.”
Roubini’s ukulele school is also doing brilliantly well; what began as a grassroots operation is now arguably the biggest outside of Hawaii. Classes run in three sessions (January, April, and September) taking place in three different locations: the Seymour Building, the Post at 750 on Hamilton Street, and Presentation House in North Vancouver. Each session spans 10 weeks, with Roubini and others teaching an average of 35 students in each of the 12 separate classes.
For those for whom the ukulele isn’t exotic enough, she also runs a Spanish-immersion ukulele class where students learn and speak en español, as well as a weekly session for those who’ve signed on for the orchestra.
The demand for her classes, Roubini says, suggests that the days of the ancient four-stringed instrument being a Tiny Tim novelty are over. Indeed, artists like Amanda Palmer and Eddie Vedder have picked up the ukulele as a go-to songwriting tool, with portability being a major selling point. Musical icons ranging from Pete Townshend to Taylor Swift have been known to bust out the ukulele on-stage and in the studio, and mega-celebrities from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Ryan Gosling are on record as devoted disciples.
“I feel like the ukulele is coming into its own now,” Roubini notes. “People don’t laugh at me anymore when I say that I’ve got a ukulele school. Now they go ‘Oh wow,’ when they used to laugh all the time. I was in a coffee shop the other day, and this kind of trendy young bearded guy looked at my ukulele and asked me ‘What’s that?’ I told him I was teaching, and he completely lost his sort of trendy, hip persona. He asked me, ‘Do you have a card? Because I’m a failed guitarist.’ That’s what the ukulele is great for. Not really failed guitarists, but people who are like, ‘I want to be part of the music community, but can’t make inroads on the guitar.’ They can on the ukulele.”
It’s not lost on Roubini that the instrument now synonymous with the sound of Hawaii is well-suited to an evening that aims to inspire. Unlike the cello, violin, French horn, and bugle, there’s something about the uke that’s naturally uplifting.
“It really can represent the human heart,” she says. “It can be poignant and it can be fun, it can be soulful and, yes, it can be mournful, but also joyful. And that, for me, is what the evening will be about. I would say it’s beautiful music made simply.”
And as wonderful as the orchestra will sound playing “Stairway to Heaven” at A Ukulele Night to Remember, what Roubini hopes everyone involved on-stage will one day reflect on is how they got from dreaming about music to performing it. There are countless ways to make the world a better place, and being able to spread joy through music is one of them.
“What I love about working with amateur musicians is that the love of the instrument hasn’t been flushed out of them the way that it has with professionals,” Roubini says with a laugh. “The main thing for me is letting the members of the orchestra know that, in some ways, the most important part is the journey towards the performance, and their evolution towards that performance. That’s really the icing.”
A Ukulele Night to Remember comes to the Cultch at 3 and 7 p.m. on Sunday (November 18).
for Hard John Lucas
What’s in Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6-cubic-foot refrigerators. ON THE GRILL
WHO ARE YOU
I’m an “art-pop” singer-songwriter from Vancouver (Bowen Island currently), and Before You is my new album. The record was produced by Polaris and Juno Award–winning Jesse Zubot.
I seem to remember going to a lot of concerts when I was young, but the earliest ones are all kind of blurred into one fantastical memory that involved elephants (riding on one?), Charlotte Diamond on a hot summer’s day, and my uncle playing the clarinet somewhere grand and frightening with red velvet curtains, a cavernous stage, and squeaky seats. LIFE-CHANGING CONCERT
This wasn’t the first concert I ever saw that blew my mind, but it did change my life. It was just a random concert I picked from the Vancouver Jazz Festival brochure on a whim. It was the Esbjörn Svensson Trio playing at the Cultch, in 2002 I think. It just shattered something inside me—it was so heavy and so free. This was at a point where I had grown totally disillusioned with my rigid classical training (my life since age 4) and hadn’t touched the piano in months—thought it was all a washout. But I walked out of that concert, said “I need to study jazz,” found Bob Murphy, started learning to improvise, wrote my first song, discovered my favourite-ever way of making music, and never looked back.
TOP THREE RECORDS
Björk Post I stumbled across this album when I was in Grade 11—I listened to it so much that even hearing 10 seconds of one of those songs now time-warps me back to being 16 in such a painful way I almost can’t listen. Which is kind of sad, because Björk influenced the hell out of me and I still worship the songwriting and production on that album and wish I could hear it without revisiting teenage hell. But ah well, it got me through it, I’m grateful for that.
Brad Mehldau Places I didn’t grow up listening to jazz, and this was the first “Jazz” album I ever owned. There’s something so lonely and beautiful about this trio album, at times really dense and dizzying and yet still spare, plaintive. It made me fall in love so hard with Mehldau’s playing, and the way he celebrated modern songwriters (Radiohead et cetera), and just kind of hovered above all the definitions of jazz and pop and made his own sound—sometimes angular and cerebral, sometimes super accessible, always beautiful.
Andy Shauf The Party I have to mention this album because it’s one of the only albums my fouryear-old son will let me play in the house. He’s the biggest Andy fan, and requests one of two songs from the record at regular intervals, demanding to hear them on repeat until I have to pretend the speakers are broken. But I love The Party. It’s so good, everything placed so carefully, so exactly, laid so so so back. Brilliant. Anything that can stand up to that kind of relentless repeat listening deserves a place on this list.
ALL-TIME FAVOURITE VIDEO Michael Jackson “Thriller” Ugh, who can answer that? How about all of Björk’s videos? Okay, without overthinking this I’ll just say Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” because I remember being a kid and how captivated and confused I was by its wicked allure. Those shoulder pads, those dancing zombies, those white socks peeping out. Agh!
WHAT’S IN YOUR FRIDGE
A bag of… Play-doh. (I hope it’s Play-doh…?) It’s teal, full of thumb indents, a suggestion of glitter, and a certain white crustiness that daunts me. Will I be screamed at if I throw this away?
Gasket adhesive. Yes. Because after the wood-stove repairs we thought we might need it again and so refrigeration seemed wise. (!?) Tucked cozily in amongst the condiments. Second nonedible fridge discovery. Moving on to safer regions…
About five dozen apples from our apple tree, crammed in at the back, waiting to be made into applesauce. Plus 14 different kinds of vegetables all in a healthy state of freshness (you might be thinking that I only keep nonfood in my fridge or that I let things go bad and I must insist I do not), but SADLY, no beets. And that really is sad, because I adore beets and a day without one is a hard thing to face.
from page 47 or professionals.
If your husband isn’t feeling neglected—if he enjoys hurryup-and-get-it-over-with sex as much as you do and wants to be tied up and pegged only once every five years—then you don’t have a problem. But if he’s feeling resentful, you do have a problem. Resentment has a way of metastasizing into bitterness, and bitterness has a way of curdling into the kind of anger that can doom a relationship.
So check in with your husband, FEMDOM, and be clear about your feelings: you don’t hate indulging his fantasy, but you’re both busy, you have small children, and his fantasies require a lot of prep and setup. Tell him you want him to be happy—and, hey, if he is happy, then great. But if he’s not, then it’s time to talk accommodation. You don’t want him to go without; you don’t want him to see a pro; and you don’t want him to feel bad about the sex you do have and both enjoy. So how about this: you get grandparents or good friends to look after your kids once a year while you spend a restful weekend in a nice hotel pegging the husband’s ass between spa treatments.
Daphne Roubini and Andy Smith will perform as the old-timey act Ruby & Smith at the first of two A Ukulele Night to Remember shows, both of which take place at the Cultch on Sunday (November 18).
Before You. Alicia Hansen is an art-pop singer-songwriter who really, really likes beets. Her latest album is called