Naming the inaugural Whittlesea Uke Muster was ‘a great laugh’, a take on the iconic annual Deni Ute Muster which was started years ago featuring barbecues, burn outs and a whole lotta utes. “We found out that there actually is a Deniliquin Uke Muster so we had to name our event the Whittlesea Uke Muster and we put a lot of pictures of Ukuleles on the fliers so nobody would turn up thinking it was for cars.”
Seeds of the idea for a Whittlesea Uke Muster were sown a couple of years ago following a Singing Festival held in the town, something Community Music Facilitator, Kerry Clarke, had been ‘busting to do for many years.’
“The Singing Festival was really successful, absolutely fantastic and we thought ‘ooh, let’s try and do something with ukuleles cos they’re so popular, so we applied for some money to run the Uke Muster last year and we didn’t get it. We thought ‘oh well, bugger that!’ So we applied again this year under the community grants scheme from our local council, City of Whittlesea, and we got it.”
‘We’ was a team effort by Kerry, Mary Lynn Griffith, Manager of the Whittlesea Community House; and local Community Musician, Cathy Edwards who worked together to bring the event into being: “It was Mary who applied for all the grants and managed all the payments and budget, the Uke Muster was actually her baby, she really wanted to do it.”
Enough funds were awarded to run the Muster in a way which meant workshop leaders could be paid and there was no charge for anyone to attend the event.
“I know the people we asked would have probably done it for petrol money or something, but we really appreciated being able to offer them payment and we paid each leader $300. For that they had to do all their own preparation and travel quite a distance, including one person who came all the way from Emerald. It was great to be able to pay them a proper professional rate and having a grant allowed us to do this. We were also able to pay for publicity and promotion. We got a banner made that we can use again next time, those sorts of small things you can get with a little bit of money behind you, and we ran the Uke Muster via the community house which, as an incorporated organisation was the reason we were able to get a grant in the first place.”
Over 170 people came along and took part on the day, plus another ten or fifteen locals who came to clap and cheer for the concert at the end. “We set up the muster following the same model we’d used for the Singing Festival where we had a bit of an all-in session, a series of workshops and then we had feedback from the workshops and a little concert at the end. It worked really, really well. The workshops were extraordinarily successful, we had excellent workshop presenters and I think that’s why it was so very good. There were lots of opportunities for people to mill about and chat with one another and play together, it was a real hit.” There was also a strum-along run by Cathy and Bob Edwards, ‘two amazing community musicians’.
Whittlesea is a small town and while the primary and secondary schools offer music and are involved in singing and playing, community-wise there hasn’t been a whole heap of things on offer besides Kerry’s singing groups, but it seems this is all about to change: “We’ve started up a few ukulele groups and they’ve been extraordinarily popular…Cathy runs two local ukulele groups with a total of around 40 players across the two and there’s a group of six who are beginners, so it’s all become very popular and this has all come out of the Whittlesea Community House, a part of the Neighbourhood House network.”
The Uke Muster was the first event of its kind to be held out in the Whittlesea area and local people were excited that they didn’t have to drive a long way to go to it. “Usually we have to resign ourselves to a good hour’s drive to whatever we want to get to. We had a group from U3A in Lalor, people drove over from Euroa, and people from the local area were really appreciative that this was something happening on their own doorstep for once!” In the end, players came from far and wide for the day. As well as Lalor and Euroa, they came from Panton Hill, Hurstbridge, Mernda, the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne, and three people came from the Bella Bella group in Cranbourne which, as Kerry says, ‘was amazing’!
Goals of the Uke Muster were to encourage participation from new players and to offer skills development for existing singers and players and the range of workshops available on the day reflected this. There was a beginners’ workshop for people just starting out on their ukulele playing journey while other workshops offered opportunities to explore and expand upon a range of different techniques and styles of playing to keep things interesting for everyone.
As organisers, one of the first challenges was getting in touch with contacts. Kerry says they now have ‘all of the contacts they can cope with’ so that challenge has been successfully overcome. “Basically, through word of mouth, we eventually found all the local groups we knew of and we don’t think we missed anybody which is really good because we wanted to include as many local people from the area as we could.”
“Getting people to get back to you is another challenge” laughs Kerry. “People think ‘oh that’s a great idea, I’m going to go to that’ but they don’t tell you they’re coming, so that can be tricky when you get a lot more people than you were expecting. Timing was also a challenge. If we can do it again next year, we’ll perhaps look at making a slightly later time for the concert or limiting the number of performers because it ran over time and I don’t like it when things run over time because people have other commitments to get to and things like that, although nobody seemed to mind. We were learning too!”
There was ‘a lot of terrific positive feedback’ with players saying they hope that the Whittlesea Uke Muster becomes a permanent fixture in the calendar and an event which ‘happens every year.’ Help was at hand on the day from Rhonda Rose and the Mernda Singers and Strummers, with Kerry filling the role of MC, something she clearly enjoyed: “Uke players are a fun lot!! Good sense of humour!!”A popular part of the day was the Scones stall that the Mernda group ran, with home made scones for sale all day long. There was also a raffle with two donated ukes as prizes, and these made over $500 dollars on the day as a fundraiser.
Other highlights for Kerry included the opening strum-along. “There was a big screen up with all the chords on and we had everybody playing and everybody singing along and then Oli (Hinton) brings out the bass uke and starts ‘doom, doom, dooming’ and everybody’s going ‘what the heck is that?!’ it was sooo great, it was such fun!”
Looking ahead to a re-run of the Uke Muster in 2020, Kerry and the team are already planning to approach local businesses to ask for sponsorship and again, paying the leaders is where the money would go. “This year’s event was run as a pilot and when we applied for the grant we said if it was a success, we’d plan to approach local businesses for sponsorship to do a future one, so that’s what we’ll try and do! Early next year we’ll set out to get a commitment of cash and see where that takes us.”
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Kerry Clarke.