When is a good time to pull out a ukulele?

I asked her about the ukulele on the couch next to her. What she did next surprised me.

I asked her about the ukulele on the couch next to her. What she did next surprised me.

I was recently invited to do a brief interview at a local radio station to promote a project I was involved in. There was a young lady in the busy lobby also waiting to be interviewed for an upcoming event. I asked her about the ukulele on the couch next to her and she told me she started playing it years ago and loved the instrument. She said it had a peaceful, carefree and gentle sound -- a calming sound that reminds people of the Hawaiian Islands.

I told her that I remembered my son listening to music by a large Hawaiian musician named Iz who played the ukulele. I recalled the words of one favorite song being a beautiful mix of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World.

The young woman's face lit up and she said she loved that song. Without hesitation, she removed her ukulele from the case and started playing and singing the song so beautifully right there in the lobby.

Time seemed to stop.

As she sang with a sweet, soft voice accompanied by the gentle strumming of her ukulele, the other people in the lobby stopped talking and started listening. People in the offices nearby peered around the corners and I felt a moment of magic in the air.

I believe that we all have God-given talents. I imagine some of the most pleasing moments to be found on this earth are when we share our talents to uplift and brighten the lives of others.

If we hold deity with any regard, I believe it is our duty to develop and share our talents in this way.

The young lady who was bold enough to open her ukulele case and start singing in that lobby shared a part of herself with people she did not know. And for this I am grateful. I left that building with a wonderful feeling of peace and appreciation for what was given.

Many of you have felt this power, and you may have even shared moments like this with others when you gave of yourself, whether in music, performing in a play, singing in church, reading a child a story, or fixing a car.

One of my favorite quotes is by Jim Henson, someone else whom I respect a great deal for sharing his creative talent with others and striving to uplift and edify. He said:

"I don't know exactly where ideas come from, but when I'm working well ideas just appear. I've heard other people say similar things - so it's one of the ways I know there's help and guidance out there. It's just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that are waiting to be heard."

I thanked that young lady in the lobby, and learned that her name is Annabeth McNamara. I later emailed her a few questions about sharing talents that I have provided below as a Q&A along with a video.

Annabeth McNamara will be part of a concert this weekend at The Highland Nature Center by Lynx Lake, 7:30 p.m. June 30, 2012. It is presented as a beautiful evening of folk goddesses singing harmonies in the pines. Tickets are available at www.folksessions.com (pre-order: $12.50; at the door: $15). Celia is the headlining act, along with McNamara, Alexa MacDonald and Jonathan Best.

Q&A with Annabeth McNamara

  1. How did you discover your musical talents?

My mother made me practice piano diligently for ten years. Learning the technicality of classical piano was my formal music training. As I went along, I picked up guitar and banjo. I started writing about one song a year, and the first time I played out, it was a talent show at camp. I have a memory of sobbing in a creek, needing to be alone, it was so scary! But then I did it, and everyone erupted with applause, and I never turned back since, even though the nervousness always makes me question. I never took my songs seriously until it eventually dawned on me that the response I was getting was so positive, I couldn't ignore it. I get so much out of the "high" after I play, and people have been moved to joy and tears. I guess we all discovered it together.

  1. Why the ukulele?

I'd been playing the banjo for six years and although it's fun, I find it to be a strange, haunted, odd sound, perfect for expressing loneliness, the bizarre, anger, and new sounds. However, while living in France last year, I fell in love and needed an instrument to express the happiness and romance I had found. One day I woke up, said, "J'ai besoin d'acheter un ukelele!" and by the afternoon, voila, I had my own French-brand little uke.

  1. What is it about the ukulele that makes it so unique and draws attention?

I believe it came from sailors bringing the guitar to Hawaii. The ukelele found a way to embody the happy, balmy, tropical vibe of Hawaii. I haven't been there, but I feel like everytime I strum it, I go there in my heart.

  1. What inspires you?

Nature. Romance. Pure emotion. Often, song is the only way I can express that moment of evolution where I make the shift from negativity and darkness to light, joy, and understanding. Often I've used songs to encapsulate profound lessons I've learned-- I don't want to forget! So I sing it to myself over and over.

  1. What advice would you give to others, especially young people, about using and sharing their talents?

This era is the perfect time to share your talents, because digital media is making it so easy to create and share. The best thing you can do is realize that YOU are an artist. It's not this demi-god status that only the rich and famous get. It all begins with you claiming your ability to create. Take what you do seriously, and others will follow suit.

  1. What's one thing you hope people will feel or take away when you perform?

I want people to have an experience of love, of emotion. This happens often when men approach me after a show, saying I made them cry. That is so precious and rare- the tears of a man! I also have struggled with "depression" throughout my life, so I really value giving people a small experience to remember why life is worth living. If someone's in a bad way, and they wander into a bar, and there just happens to be a beautiful band playing a touching song, it can save a life. I believe that.