UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 54, 26 December 2020: Administrative Transitions in Music, Sorta . . .

Hi Fellow Strummers.  This is the last musical musing of mine for the miserable year of 2020.  Whew!

Here’s hoping that you and yours and us and ours have a much, much better year in 2021! Fingers crossed—except when moving through a few of those pesky chord fingerings.

Sadly, there will be no First Night AEIOUkes performance this year as we will all be in lockdown for this used-to-be gala holiday event. 

Again, here’s to a much better 2021, and to First Night 2022! Stay TUNED!

So, how do I end this year’s volume of over fifty weekly blog musings?  Well, my plan for 2021 is to do a musical journey around the country, ukulele style—and maybe the world while I’m at it. 

I’ll be musing about some songs from most of the fifty states–spiced up with a bit of international musical travel.  I did the same thing for the New England states (Musing No. 43) a few weeks ago and a lot of you gentle readers and fellow strummers found it to be fun.  So, let’s keep moving on with one per week (more or less) while my aging energy lasts and my youthful muse continues prodding. 

We’ll see how far we can travel as “administrative changes” are made.

Anyway, gentle readers, why not end this year with music about a faraway place—a song fairly off the wall as one might say but, in my humble opinion, a bit of needed mind diversion.  I’m all for anything that will give ourselves a different earworm and get our minds off the next month or so between now and Inauguration Day. 

Here we go with a song about—shall we say—an “administrative change!

The song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was written with catchy lyrics in 1953 by Jimmy Kennedy and set to 1920s-vibe music by Nat Simon.  I warned you that it was somewhat “off-the-wall.”

What makes this an important reminder of the not-so-orderly process of “administrative change” is that the song takes its theme from the fall of the Byzantine Empire’s capital city, Constantinople, when it was conquered after a siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. 

As would be expected of the winners, they promptly erased the Christian name of “Constantinople” renaming it in Turkish as “Istanbul.”  Our song commemorates, in a way, the 500th anniversary of this bit of nasty world history.  What better reminder of 1400s geo-political change than a 1950s novelty song! Go figure.

Anyway, Here’s our song with all the lyrical and rhythmical nuances of “Middle Eastern Swing” as performed, through the magic of the computer, by an acapella barbershop “quartet.” Click or tap on the next image or link for a history lesson—of sorts.

And, of course, we have a fun ukulele version of our song.  Click or tap on the next image or link to give a listen to some nice strumming on this one–never mind the Tarboosh (Fez) or the fake beard.

Now, to complement the Middle Eastern theme, here are a couple of ukuleles from my collection that would be quite at home in Istanbul, or Constantinople for that matter.  The first (lower half of pic) is a bowlback baritone “Baroqulele” set up with standard DGBE tuning.  The tone is really quite nice and mellow.  The trick is to keep it from rolling over as you strum—the hazards of a bowlback and my large belly!  

The second (upper half of pic) is a bowlback soprano “Baroqulele” tuned G-CC-EE-A—six strings in four courses.  The fingering is just like a regular ukulele, but the sound is much richer—once you get all six strings in tune using the wood pegs in the turned-back peg board. Needless to say a tad tricky!  Notice also that the frets are traditional “tied-on and dried gut,” not modern fretwire, a nice touch of authenticity.

Tap or click on the next image or link to listen to someone who really knows how to play one of these things!

A traditional Turkish ukulele-like instrument is the “Cumbus” which is a lot like a combination banjolele and resonator uke, sort of a flat metal can with a fingerboard attached. Alas, not in my collection. Yet. 

Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to what one of these things sounds like.

Now we can dive back a bit further in musical history for another appropriate tune–C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T-I-N-O-P-L-E–that some say was the inspiration for our song.  Yes, the hyphens are part of the title.  This 1928 foxtrot doesn’t have much to do with history but here it is anyway.  Click or tap on the next image for a recording by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra with some interesting period pics.   

As long as we’re having fun with our song, let’s end this musing with a Charleston version! Click or tap on the next image or link for a toe-tapping, leg kicking treat. Watch out for the loose Tarboosh!

Well, this musing doesn’t have much to do with either the presidential transition or the calendric transition from 2020 to 2021.   Who will write a song about THESE days 500 years from now?  At least there will be ukuleles! We’ll see . . .

So, stay safe, stay sequestered, stay masked  . . .

. . .  stay out of tiffs between the Byzantines and the Ottomans,

.  .  .  and STAY TUNED.

See you all as we strum our way into next Year!   

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton and, now, Easthampton, Mass.

Hi friends, neighbors, and fellow strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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