Volunteer Coach Tony Baclig shares his love of the ukulele
“Teaching kids ukulele is what feeds my soul.”
~Tony Baclig, CoachArt volunteer coach
Tony Baclig of Montebello, a suburb of Los Angeles, spoke with us about his experience as a volunteer coach with CoachArt. Following are his comments, condensed and edited for clarity.
A great instrument for a child to learn
I come from a musical family, so I’ve always played an instrument. I started playing piano when I was six — that was my parents’ idea. At about 14 years old, like a lot of teenagers, I wanted to be a rock star, so I started playing guitar. I still play both of those instruments, but at this stage of my life, I enjoy ukulele the most.
A co-worker friend of mine introduced me to the ukulele about 15 years ago, and I started teaching myself. As a guitarist I had a head start — it was easy for me to learn. The internet is a great resource for people who are learning instruments, and I found a lot of tutorials online. But then I met Jason Arimoto, who owns the U-Space ukulele shop in Los Angeles. My day job is downtown, and on my lunch breaks I’d visit his shop. I was a regular customer, and I started taking lessons from him, and then I started performing with him and the U-Space ensemble around town. I still take lessons once in a while to improve my skills.
A laid back, at-the-beach, on-an-island feeling
There’s a sound to the ukulele that’s easy-going and mellow. It gives me a sort of a laid back, at-the-beach, on-an-island feeling. It’s a light instrument so it’s easy to hold and travel with, and it only has four strings rather than six like a guitar, so it’s easy to play. That’s one of the things that makes the ukulele a great instrument for a child to learn — or anyone who doesn’t already have musical experience.
As I fell in love with the ukulele I studied its history a bit. When the Portuguese immigrated to Hawai’i to work, they brought an instrument that was a small guitar. The Hawaiians got a hold of it, and changed the tunings, and played it their way, and called it the ukulele. If you ask a local Hawaiian where the ukulele came from, they’re gonna say “Hawai’i, of course,” because they made it their own. Over the years the uke has had surges in popularity, such as in the roaring 20’s, and again in the 40’s, and again with the rise of YouTube. A video of Jake Shimabukuro playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps by George Harrison of the Beatles blasted the uke back into popularity.
I started collecting different ukuleles. You can’t have just one! I’ve had as many as 15 of them, but currently I have about 10. There’s probably at least one in every room in my house.
“Hey Dad, I’ve got a gig — will you back me?”
I have three sons, and they’re all musical, but my youngest has a passion for the ukulele. He got his first uke when he was seven or eight, and he’s a senior in high school now. Among his peers it’s considered a reasonably cool instrument. You’ll see ukulele clubs in high schools. But here on the mainland it’s nothing like Hawai’i, where kids learn to play the ukulele in elementary school.
My son won a contest playing the ukulele when he was 11 or 12. Hey’d say “hey Dad, I’ve got a gig — will you back me?” Or people would say to me “hey Tony, can your son play at this event we’re having?” And I’d accompany him. He handles the solos.
All of a sudden they’re playing and singing
I found CoachArt with a little luck in 2019. I was online, scrolling through Facebook, and a post about volunteering with CoachArt caught my eye. I had just finished coaching soccer with the American Youth Soccer Organization for a number of years, and I had been director of the AYSO’s special needs soccer program, and I enjoyed coaching, but I wanted to change it up and teach ukulele. CoachArt looked like a great fit.
I’ve done seven or eight one-on-one matches, where I teach a kid ukulele once a week for eight weeks. And I’ve done a few workshops with about 10 kids each. CoachArt provides the kids with ukuleles, so it doesn’t cost the families anything.
The kids have been great. A lot of times, this is their first instrument, and they’re excited about it. We start slowly, and I teach them how to hold the ukulele, and how to tune it. I give them a little history. I teach them some simple songs. And then all of a sudden they’re playing and singing — it’s a great feeling.
I tell my friends and co-workers about CoachArt. I tell them you don’t have to be professional or a master of something to step into this role. You just have to share your hobby. For me, my job is what puts food on the table, but teaching kids ukulele is what feeds my soul.
We’re grateful to CoachArt volunteer coach Tony Baclig for sharing his experience with our community!
- Ukulele means “jumping flea” or “gift from afar.”
- The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, loved to play the ukulele.
- Stitch from “Lilo & Stitch dresses up like Elvis and plays his ukulele on the beach.
- George Harrison of the Beatles plays the ukulele and has an extensive ukulele collection.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR FAMILIES IMPACTED BY CHILDHOOD CHRONIC ILLNESS
CoachArt’s mission is to create a transformative arts and athletics community for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Our vision is that one day every family impacted by chronic illness will be connected to a community of support and an opportunity to learn and grow together.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CoachArt is providing lessons online for all group activities and one-on-one lessons. Learn more about CoachArt’s online programming for kids and teens impacted by chronic illness.
CoachArt offers free art and athletic lessons to chronically ill children and their siblings between the ages of 5-18. We currently serve families in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland OR, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area, with more cities coming soon. If your child has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, we invite you to fill out a student eligibility form to learn if CoachArt is right for your child.
WAYS TO HELP
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