Yes, there is such a thing as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. While one may not think immediately of the ukulele as an orchestral instrument—after all, even the volume of a softly-played violin can rival that of a very hard-strummed ukulele—ensemble arrangements of this Hawaiian instrument have proved to be far more versatile than one might think. The organization, while firmly establishing the instrument as one which can, indeed, be played with skill and versatility, also manages to keep a sense of humor about the whole affair at the same time that they’re wowing their audiences.
There are eight members in the orchestra. The organization has been active for over 20 years and contains a mix of players who manage to have a great deal of fun playing their instruments while doing so with impressive skill and range. While Wagner may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the ukulele, the Valkyries may well find themselves in flight with the souls of fallen Viking warriors to the light tones of this Polynesian instrument should the UOGB be anywhere in earshot.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain also plays songs of a more recent, and popular vintage. The British, aside from being known for refinement, dedication and excellence in the arts are also known for punk music and their nation served as its place of birth. The Orchestra is not afraid to take on well-known punk standards in its performances and there is nothing quite like hearing “Anarchy in the UK” banged out on a small and subtle instrument whose origins lay literally on the other side of the planet. Versatile, indeed!
There is a more serious angle to what the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain does, particularly for those who find a means of self-expression in this instrument. The ukulele is oftentimes dismissed as a toy or as a pseudo-instrument. Of course, as anyone who has ever heard a truly skilled player can attest, these are real instruments and can be very beautiful and moving when played correctly. While there is plenty of dry, British humor to be found in their performances, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain also allows people to hear these instruments in a way that they likely never have in the past. The efforts of these musicians can bring some appreciation to this instrument.
For those who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, there are few things one can attend which is quite as interesting as a performance by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. These performers, even though they have a very good sense of humor about what they do, cannot be described as lacking skill or dedication in any regard. They make an instrument which is not generally considered “serious” something with which to reckon and they demonstrate that, in the right hands, the ukulele is not only serious, it is very versatile and quite compelling.