Remember George Costanza‘s fiance, Susan Ross from Seinfeld? The last we saw her, she was licking that fatal envelope in 1996. Her real name is Heidi Swedberg. She’ll be in Phoenix Saturday night to host a movie screening about…a ukulele?!?
(Courtesy of Lisa Nicita – Arizona Republic)
The Los Angeles actress will be at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix Saturday, Jan. 8, to host a screening and performance of “Mighty Uke,” a documentary about the tiny Hawaiian instrument’s comeback as a new generation discovers its magic. Then she’ll jam with whoever brings their ukulele. Don’t have one? Don’t worry. Swedberg is bringing a few to share.
Swedberg talked with us about the instrument and her appreciation for “Seinfeld.”
Question: How did you become the ukulele’s ambassador as it were, as it relates to this documentary?
Answer: I’m not in it and I’m not really associated with it. I’m definitely of very equal sentiment of the people who made it. I teach ukulele. I teach music to kids, kindergarten through eighth grade. I teach all over the place.
Q: Why and how is the ukulele making a comeback?
A: It is unbelievable the way ukulele is flying off the guitar store shelves. There’s a huge number of reasons why.
There isn’t a huge expectation when you pick up the ukulele. Everybody has a guitar hero. You want to be Eric Clapton or someone. Not a lot of people have a ukulele hero. Because, it’s silly.
It’s small. You can hold it and drag it around with you. You don’t have to buy it a seat on the airplane.
It’s silly. It’s cheap. You can get one for $40. It has four strings and you have four fingers.
You can dance with a ukulele. It’s accessible for kids. It’s in their scale.
Another big reason I think the ukulele is making a comeback is YouTube. It’s an instrument you can pick up and make a song on. There’s no necessary skill level for YouTube. You can frame up a shot with you and your ukulele and it’s still nice and tight.
Q: Is it easy to play, compared to a guitar? Do the strings break a lot, like on cartoons?
A: It’s easier on your fingertips. It’s got nylon strings. I’ve never had a string break.
Q: Does the ukulele like to go by uke? Is that like an in-the-know nickname?
A: Uke is a long-standing nickname for the ukulele. It’s Hawaiian. It means jumping flea. It has such a tiny sound. Oook-ook-lay-lay, that’s the Hawaiian pronunciation.
Q: What is your experience teaching kids?
A: I take them right away and teach them two chords that they can play about at least five different songs that they already know. Almost any pop and folk song has three chords in it. Once you begin to understand that pattern, that little, tiny chunk of music theory, you can play almost any song you hear that you can think of with three chords. It’s so fun. It’s so fast.
Q: Can’t get away without a “Seinfeld” question. How do you feel about being associated with such a hugely popular show?
A: For me, acting has always been a way of making fun. But I’m not much into the consuming end. “Seinfeld” as a show was such a great show to work on. The writing was so smart. That show brings so many laughs to so many people and I understand the power and the beauty of that. I see it every day as a blessing. It allows people to identify with me. You know me intimately. I’m already your friend.
Q: Why do you love the ukulele? Can you believe that it’s such a big part of your life?
A: The last few generations have moved us into a culture of music consumer. For eons before, music was part of your language. Part of the culture. Everybody sings. Everybody plays. This is far more who I am than network TV. It allows me to do what I think is really exciting and really important: To bring music to kids and families.