HOPE — First, listen to the sweet and haunting ukulele rendition of “Where The Rainbow Ends” in the embedded video. Next, you’ll be asking yourself: “Who is that?”
Remco Houtman-Janssen, who goes by the stage name Ukulelezaza, is one of the premier ukulele instrumentalists in the world. Hailing from his home in Ghent, Belgium, Houtman-Janssen made a special stop in Hope on Tuesday, June 25 on his American tour this summer. A sought-after workshop teacher at international ukulele festivals, Houtman-Janssen was invited by local uke player, Howard Greenberg, to teach one of his workshops at Sweet Tree Arts.
There, about a dozen beginner and experienced ukulele players spent several hours with him, learning new skills and tricks.
Jeff Weinberger, a ukulele teacher himself at Waterfall Arts and Bay Chamber’s Music School, was thrilled to learn from Houtman-Janssen in person.
“Remco is world-famous, incredible,” said Weinberger. “He is very well known in Europe. There’s casual ukulele where you just smile and strum and have a great time and then there is serious ukulele, technically proficient ukulele.”
Serious ukulele. Who knew?
A workshop teacher and performer in Europe, Scandinavia, the U.K., Japan, Australia and beyond, Houtman-Janssen is quite easy going in person. He doesn’t have a website (but he does have a Facebook page and YouTube Channel). Having just arrived from teaching a workshop at The Midwest Ukulele and Harmonica Camp in Michigan, Houtman-Janssen made a very out-of-the-way stop in Maine, before planning to go back to the Midwest to finish his tour.
It’s a profession he was born to do. He first picked up the ukulele when he was 10 years old.
“My mom and a good friend of hers taught me and my sister how to play and I got the basic chords down,” he said. “And then, when I was a teenager, it became ‘uncool’ to play ukulele, so I put it down for about 10 years until in my early 20s I picked it up again. It took another 20 years before it became popular again. Since 2006, ukulele has gotten a real revival. In Europe you have a big scene there and in America, it caught on, as well.”
People love to play ukulele “because it is such a sweet an easy instrument to play,” he said. Unlike other larger instruments that take time to pack up and lug around, many folks just tuck their ukuleles in a bag and go, making it a much more spontaneous instrument to play with. “With only four strings, it doesn’t require many chords to play,” he said. “It’s very low profile.”
His workshop started with strumming techniques, gradually layering in other chords and rhythms, including a sleight of hand signature move, where sound comes out of the ukulele even though it looks as though his hand isn’t even touching the strings.
“I think everyone came out of this workshop with a few more tricks up their sleeve,” he said.
For anyone interested in picking up ukulele in the Midcoast visit: Ukes Midcoast
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org