Virtual Orchestra Fun

Last month I tried my hand at creating this first video montage for The Ukulele Orchestra of Toronto with Eve Goldberg using a trial version of Final Cut Pro X. I had a great time learning how to use this software which I also used for a couple of family projects as well as my SoundSlice video of La chanson des blès d’or.

I enjoyed it so much that I purchased the app at the end of the trial and I offered to put together another one for the orchestra which will premiere on YouTube this Sunday afternoon at 2pm EDT.  It’ll be an arrangement of Mozart’s ‘Andante Grazioso’ created by Eve which we’ve worked on for 2 sessions of the Ukes of T now. We just had never had a chance to perform it live yet. (Plus, I’m a huge Mozart fan, so I really wanted to do this one, but that’s a long story for another post in the future…)

Cyberelele Orchestra Weekend Aug 21-23CYBERLELE ORCHESTRA WEEKEND

Next up for this summer’s virtual orchestra fun, I’ll be joining Eve Goldberg, Brenna MacCrimmon and Cynthia Kinnunen to teach a whole weekend of online orchestra classes, which will be followed by video montages of the pieces afterward. 

I’m really excited to be a part of this event. Since it’s all going to be done online, I would really love to see some of my former students from Ottawa join in on the fun too! Below are the details and links for that event:

Cyberlele Orchestra Weekend
Friday, Aug 21 – Sun Aug 23 – ONLINE

Join us for a fun and exciting weekend of ukulele ensemble! In this intensive workshop we will learn material arranged in parts for several levels of ukulele, including baritone. We will be working from sheet music and tablature. Material will suit players at skill levels from confident beginners to those with advanced skills (you should know and be comfortable with basic chords in order to participate). Group and sectional classes will help us explore repertoire, expand skills and work towards creating a virtual performance. Hosted by Eve Goldberg and Brenna MacCrimmon with guest instructors Chantal LeBlanc and Cynthia Kinnunen.

Registration fee of $160 CAD includes

  • 2 days of instructional programming
  • 3 levels of ukulele plus baritone section
  • 4 teachers
  • a Friday concert
  • a Saturday campfire
  • technical support and trouble shooting throughout the workshop
  • digital access to class materials
  • opportunity to participate in a virtual performance.

More information and registration available here.


Papillon, tu es volage

He’s the one who nicknamed me “le papillon” a long time ago. He said I never just entered a room but skipped, flitted or flew into it. I remember loving it when he’d greet me this way. You can tell here that I wasn’t one to sit still very long for a photo either. He also sometimes called me “la pitoune” which I never fully understood. It’s pronounced like the word “spittoon” and has nothing to do with “poutine”, the french fry dish. Now I know that pitoune actually means a 4-foot piece of log! 

La sleigh de pitoune

Many of our ancestors were loggers in the wild Northern Ontario bush for entire winter seasons. It was a safer way to load their horse-drawn sleighs crosswise with these short pieces to get them out of the forest trails. This work was called “charrier d’la pitoune”. Dad recently refurbished a little sleigh loaded with 4′ pitoune as a cottage decoration. Now that I know the story behind it, it’s that much more special when I see it.

Thanks to my dad for his love of nostalgia and music and for having this guitar in our house for my entire childhood too. He had received it as a gift from my mom, to bring to parties and strum along with family and friends. Once in a while he’d tune it up at our kitchen table and pick out a few melodies for us and I just loved that. I was given piano lessons on our brand new piano at the age of 7 and my brother was the one who got guitar lessons. It eventually went to my younger brother who taught me my first 3 chords on it in 2004. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on strings and still love to play guitar as well as the ukulele.

Right between those two worlds lives the Baritone Ukulele and lately, I’ve been looking for more ways to bring that deep bari sound into the mix. With that, here’s an arrangement of Papillon, tu es volage, in Bm for baritone ukulele, with a harmony part played on ukulele.  You can download the pdf here.

This one’s for my dad…

LeBlancPapillon · Papillon, tu es volage


From The Canadian Encyclopedia: ‘Papillon, tu es volage’. Folksong in the form of a dialogue. It is of French origin and has been found in Canada in several variants, most often in the minor key. I’ve only included the first and last verse in the voice of the fair maiden. I left out the voice of the fickle lover but the arrangement sheet includes the lyrics for the entire dialogue between them. 

My First SoundSlice: La chanson des blés d’or

I’ve been working on a particular family project for awhile and this is a song I really wanted to include. It’s an old french classic whose lyrics were written by Frédéric Doria (1841-1900) and by Camille Soubise and L. Le Maître; the music was written by Marius Richard at la Scala (Paris) in 1882.

The song was a very special favourite that my grandfather used to sing, long ago. My aunt Brigitte told me about it when I was teaching her some ukulele via Skype, 5 years ago, and I started arranging it back then as a future project for someday…  After our Easter family Zoom session, my nephew, my brother and I decided to start working on learning the song for my grandmother’s 100th birthday, which is actually coming up this Tuesday. Bon anniversaire, Memère!

Since my brother and his family live in New Brunswick, this is how we collaborated on the song together to create a multi-track recording to play for her on her big day. I transposed the arrangement I had into the key of G and substituted the ukulele melody to a baritone ukulele. I just uploaded the .xml file into SoundSlice. It was actually pretty user-friendly for a first attempt. The most fun part is how they let you line up your sheet music to an accompanying video, all using a free account! What a great teaching tool this is! 

My nephew (Meelo, who’s a budding young artist, check out his SoundCloud) then sent me a recording of himself playing along on a guitar and his dad then sent me a vocal track. Then I added a harmony vocal and a few ukulele improvisations, and finally my daughter Stephanie added a little viola riff which I used as the intro/outro to the finished recording. We didn’t create a video but you can hear the finished song posted on my SoundCloud now. 

If you’d like to cover this arrangement yourself or just sing/play along, head over to SoundSlice or just play or sing along to my YouTube version. 


Pussywillows, Cat-tails

Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful mom! This Gordon Lightfoot original from his record, ‘Did She Mention My Name’, was released in 1968 which is the same year she became a mom.  She had this record in her collection and it was often part of the Sunday morning stack in queue on the record player while our parents made us brunch. I’ve always liked this song and the imagery conjured up by its lyrics.

Last fall I arranged this piece for 4 ukulele parts as a project for our C.U.T.E. music circle (we call ourselves the Carpooling Ukulelists of Toronto Ensemble). This is a group of wonderful women I met through the Ukulele Orchestra of Toronto. When I found out 2 members commute all the way from Lindsay to play in the orchestra, we began carpooling to rehearsals together in early 2019. We usually meet ahead at my place to play, practice or just have a bite and hang out together before the rehearsals. Last year, on Mother’s Day weekend, we played a couple of pieces together at the Ukes of T recital and were hoping to present this one at this spring’s event. Of course none of that will be happening again for a while now but we’ve been continuing to meet via Zoom every week and decided to try and put this one together as a video. Here we are in our very first virtual “unsemble” performance together.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, as we continue doing our part in social isolation. We are now completing week 8 here in Ontario. It’s been a time of creativity for me and connecting virtually with friends, students and family members. I’m looking forward to a time when we can all be together again.

Merci Maman, d’avoir toujours rempli notre maison d’amour et de musique. On se revoit bientôt! Je t’aime.

À la claire fontaine

If you know me, you know I like to incorporate French music into my classes as often as I can. One of my current obsessions has been collecting and recording songs from my grandmother, that she always sang to us. I hope to have a songbook and accompanying recordings ready for her 100th birthday coming up in June. Unfortunately, I’m not certain the party will actually be happening now with her residence being on lockdown at this time. Bless everyone who is looking after our elders right now and guarding them from this pandemic. I recorded this on Easter Sunday with she and Elaine and Claire on my mind as well as everyone else who is currently isolated from their loved ones in nursing and assisted living homes.

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, jamais je ne t’oublierai.” means: I have loved you for so long, never will I forget you.

Play along with this traditional French folk melody that uses notes only from the C major Pentatonic scale. As an added challenge, try accompanying with C & G7 chords at the 3rd fret instead of the first position chords in the video. Download sheet music options here and sing along, en français.  Nana Mouskouri recorded a version with a different set of lyrics in 1973. 


Just when I had started teaching again…

I had just gotten into a great groove. I had a few private students coming for lessons regularly and I even got to use a perfect meeting space in our condo for my small group. I was also travelling once a week to a private home to teach a wonderful group of women. I had been really busy and inspired after starting to teach ukulele again this past winter. Until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in North America, that is. Like all teachers, our in-person lessons and music making came to an abrupt end about a month ago.

I can’t believe almost a month has gone by. At first it was so stressful and living with 2 people who travel for a living means I will have to self-isolate indefinitely. We’re still taking extra care not to leave except for food every couple of weeks. But like everyone else, despite job insecurity and the huge changes in our daily lives, life in general keeps coming at us, and even death in our own family and others. This has awakened a heightened sense of the fragility of everything around us. But also the importance of making time for the things you love to do, every day, like an Instagram workout or a remote yoga session. But the saving grace has really been music, for me. For others around me, it’s online video games with family or diving into crafts and hobbies and that’s also great. I’m really thankful for a few people who I can continue to connect with creatively to play, arrange and share music.

By now I’ve gotten all of my students (and family!) using conference platforms like Zoom and Skype and FaceTime and even Snapchat! We’ve managed to connect somewhat and I’ve enjoyed seeing their faces and playing for them and with them, taking questions and teaching them a little. One thing that is really helping is I’ve also started creating some play-along videos for them to practice with.

Also seemed like a good time to revive the teaching blog, so here we go…

Originally intended as a play-along for my Book 3 students, this solo arrangement of Streets of Laredo is from James Hill’s The Ukulele Way, Book 3, Lesson 5, which is also the lesson of the month over at Uketropolis for April 2020.

Creating and curating pre-recorded lesson material is actually James’ advice for dealing with the new reality that we’ve been thrust into and avoiding teacher burnout so that’s exactly what I’ll try and keep doing then.

Here are two more play along videos with accompanying arrangements I created for students during the March madness of 2020. I guess this is the new teaching format for now. I’ll try and keep updating the blog too, if that helps spread the joy of music a little.

I’ve just finished putting this arrangement together for the holidays, to share with my fellow learners over at The Ukulele Way Lesson of the Month. We’re focusing on “Playing in Thirds” this month. #tuwlotm Find it in C6, D6 or Baritone G6 tuning, via Ukulele Arrangements. Includes tabs and french lyrics too! You can have a listen to my recording at SoundCloud.

It’s a Johannes Brahms tune that was covered by Céline Dion and her family members on her Christmas album, These Are Special Times, released 20 years ago already! One of my all-time favourite Christmas songs.

Celine Dion & Family...Le Cloches Du Hameau... - YouTube

Joyeux Noël à tous!
Happy Holidays to all!

Here’s a nifty Ukulele Strap

© Lise Gray

© Lise Gray

I’ve been meaning to share this for awhile now. A student of mine from last term, Lise Gray, came to class one day with this nifty, crocheted ukulele strap. I had been trying for awhile to find a strap solution that doesn’t let the uke flip forward, scratch it or require drilling any holes into the instrument. This one does it all and is super comfortable to wear! She offered to make me a few for re-sale at Strings and Things and kindly shared the pattern with me.
I recently started to crochet again after my dog passed away last year. It’s such a great way to de-stress and relax and I do find so much peace while I’m working on a project. (It’s also a great way to keep your hands out the chip bowl in the evenings!)

I made a bunch in lots of fun colours before the holidays to give as little gifts for my younger students aIMG_0151nd they seemed to really like them too. A strap really frees up your focus when you’re trying to learn tricky finger positions without having to hold on to the instrument. If you’d like to make your own, the pattern is available for download from Ravelry here. If you’d like a ready-made one, let me know!


Winter Session for Adult Ukulele starts Feb 2-3

Registration for the next 8-week session of my Adult Ukulele classes at Brookfield HS is already started. If you’re a new beginner, the level 1 class can fill up quickly. If you’ve already taken 1&2 or if you’re an advanced player,  please consider joining the level 3 choir. We’ll need at least 5 members to run this course. Find courses at or call 613-239-2751.

Ukulele Level 1: Wednesdays at 7pm
Course #79543

Ukulele Level 2: Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Course #79545

Ukulele Level 3: Choir format on Tuesdays at 6:00pm
Course #81036