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Author: Jill Kimball

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain comes to Boulder

The handful of singing, strumming musicians from across the pond plays Christmas tunes and more.

CU Presents’ 80th-anniversary Artist Series season continues with a visit from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, a group of eight all-singing, all-strumming players from across the pond. The genre-bending group performs covers of pop, jazz and country, along with a few holiday favorites, in a one-night-only concert Dec. 8 in Macky Auditorium.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is known the world over for their funny, virtuosic, twanging, foot-stomping performances. The “much-loved institution” of Britain (The Observer) can “extract more than seems humanly possible from so small and so modest an instrument” (The New York Times). Though their international popularity only increases each year, the group’s signature self-effacing humor has never wavered: They’re proud to declare that they’ve been called “unabashed genre crashers” (The Sunday Times), “depraved musicians” (an anonymous audience member) and “a musicologist’s nightmare” (Music Week).

Perhaps that’s because, as founder George Hinchliffe says, the orchestra was borne of merrymaking rather than seriousness.

“It was intended as the antidote to some of the more odious music business conventions which the performers had identified,” Hinchliffe says. “The aims were to have fun, to not lose money, to avoid getting caught up in cults of personality and to have a voice in repertoire, writing, making deals and record production. It seems to have worked.”

Hinchliffe’s journey to strumming stardom started early, when, in childhood, his father came home from a trip with a ukulele in one hand and a model steam engine in the other. Ever the iconoclast, Hinchliffe tossed the model engine aside and took to his uke quickly.

The rest is history. Hinchliffe not only went on to form the most popular ukulele ensemble in history but also inspired new generations to pick up the affordable, affable instrument and form groups of their own.

“The ukulele is a popular instrument right now,” he says, “because it seems inherently light-hearted and inclusive.”

It’s so inclusive, in fact, that the orchestra plans to invite audience members in Boulder to bring their own ukuleles and join in on a sing- and play-along session during the concert. Anyone who wants to participate can download sheet music and watch instructional videos here.

Whether or not they participate, Hinchliffe says the audience can expect to hear some classic Christmas carols, covers of rock and pop music ranging from the likes of Joni Mitchell to Pharrell Williams, toe-tapping country and jazz and at least one Western theme.

“The orchestra usually makes sure, in this world of audio shuffling and wide-ranging playlists, that it includes a selection of musical material from many genres,” he says. “That way, people from all walks of life leave the concert hall smiling and feeling better about themselves and the world.”