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Ambassador for the New Zealand Ukulele Trust

Talk about the BOOM King here.

by emira » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:02 am

Bret Mckenzie Ambassador for the New Zealand Ukulele Trust
Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Academy Award winner and musical all rounder Bret McKenzie is the 2013 ambassador of The New Zealand Ukulele Trust.

The New Zealand Ukulele Trust is dedicated to improving young people’s access and participation in music by providing instruments, workshops, competitions and resources at no cost to families. It also stages the annual New Zealand Ukulele Festival, a free community event.

Bret McKenzie wholeheartedly supports this vision; “I'm really excited to be the 2013 Ambassador for the NZ Ukulele Trust. Not only because it's a ridiculously long title but also because I want to help bring music to more young people in New Zealand”.

As a young person Bret McKenzie was encouraged to try dance, music and sport. He learnt to play a number of instruments, including guitar, ukulele and keyboards. Bret McKenzie says “the ukulele is such an accessible instrument - easy to learn and great for a large group to play and sing along to.”

The New Zealand Ukulele Trust is delighted to announce the official appointment of McKenzie as Trust ambassador. “It is fantastic to have a New Zealand musician who has made it on the world stage endorse our efforts to get more kiwi kids accessing the benefits of learning an instrument,” says trust chairperson Mary Cornish.

Bret McKenzie, most famous for his international success as being one half of musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and winning an Academy Award for song 'Man or Muppet' from movie The Muppets in February 2012. He has also been involved in local acts; most recently starring in NZ feature film Two Little Boys, a cameo in Lord Of The Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring and has also toured as part of dub/funk band The Black Seeds. He is also a founding member of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.

For further information on The New Zealand Ukulele Trust and the festival please visit http://www.nzukulelefestival.org.nz

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by emira » Thu Oct 31, 2013 2:01 pm

Bret McKenzie is one lucky plucker
By Lydia Jenkin
2:08 PM Thursday Oct 3, 2013

Bret McKenzie talks ukulele ambassadorships, Muppet sequels and Jane Austen rom-coms with Lydia Jenkin

Bret McKenzie is one of those people who will always have better work stories. Not because of his fame but because he's always got such a vast array of projects on the go. Chatting down the line from Los Angeles, topics range from working with Kermit, writing a song for Ricky Gervais, well-endowed Jane Austen heroes, and his next musical film project.

The reason for the phone call is because McKenzie has just been named Ambassador for the New Zealand Ukulele Trust - a title he finds hilariously longwinded but a role he's enthusiastic about.

"I get asked to do quite a few charity things but this was one that caught my eye and something I felt a real connection to.

"I've been playing the ukulele for a while, I helped to start the ukulele orchestra in Wellington in 2005 and since then it's amazing how many people I've had come up to me and tell me about their weekly ukulele group - it's a bit like a book club or something.

"In fact, several of my friends are 'over' the ukulele," he says. "They feel like it's been a little overexposed. But you can't deny it's a very joyous instrument."

One key reason for the instrument's rising popularity is the appeal it holds for children as an introduction to the world of music.

"When I was at school it was all about the recorder and I definitely think the ukulele is a huge leap forward. Being able to sing along, and sing in a group, and accompany yourself, is such an amazing feeling."

The trust is all about helping to provide instruments, resources and knowledge, to schools and communities, including teaching interested teachers how to play the ukulele so they can pass it on to their classes.

"It's great because there are teachers out there who thought they wouldn't be any good at music, but they've picked up the ukulele and embraced it and now they're rock stars in their own schools."

McKenzie is very thankful for his own teachers and their musical encouragement. "I had one teacher who always had the whole school singing Beatles' songs. Assemblies would go on far longer than they needed to, so he could get in a few more Sgt Pepper jams. It was lucky for me that I chanced upon a few great music teachers, and that's something that the trust can help to make happen."

As for his own two young children, he hasn't forced the instrument on them just yet.

"I've got a few ukuleles around the house, but we'll just see if they pick them up. They're pretty little."

Those ukuleles have a serious purpose too - they do get used while McKenzie is composing new material. The Academy Award winning-writer is now finishing the songs for the next Muppet film, Muppets Most Wanted, which stars Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey.

"On Monday I was in the studio with Kermit, recording his song, which was a lot of fun. And next week we'll go into a studio and have an entire orchestra playing along to my songs, which is just one of the coolest things I've got to do."

Writing a song for Gervais also proved very rewarding. "So it turns out Ricky Gervais was a pop star in the 80s so he's a great singer. They were called Seona Dancing. It was this almost Bowie-style band, a new romantics band, and he was the lead singer. It's kind of amazing, because he looks so young and thin."

The most imminent piece of McKenzie's work that Kiwis can see is his role in Austenland, an off-beat addition to the oeuvre of film-maker Jerusha Hess, who co-wrote and directed Napoleon Dynamite and Gentlemen Broncos with her husband, Jared. It tells the tale of an American woman obsessed with the works of Jane Austen, who goes to a boutique Austen-themed fantasy getaway weekend, where she intends to have a romantic encounter with a Mr Darcy type.

"It's my rom-com debut," he says. "I don't know if I'll get to do another one but it's a really fun, kooky rom-com, one of the most kooky you're ever likely to see. It hasn't done great with the critics, but I think they were expecting something more literary, and instead it's really this kind of hilarious romp. It's about crazy fandom and it's a very broad comedy."

"The servants around the grounds, for example, the guards and butlers, they're all very well-endowed, with socks down their lederhosen, or whatever they're called, breeches, pantaloons. But it's hilarious, they look sort of like porn-star judges. And Jennifer Coolidge, who is always brilliant, is just wildly out of control, which was great to watch."

Though he's clearly enjoying the acting opportunities coming his way, McKenzie's next project will see him back in the writer's chair - he's currently working on developing a new fairy tale comedic, Labyrinth-style musical film, with some help from fellow Flight Of The Conchords writer James Bobin. Think singing dragons and mythical creatures mixed with live-action and music.

"We're in pre-production, so it's early days, script stage really. But yeah, having learned so much working on The Muppets I'm excited about working in a world where we get to create everything afresh. It's been a busy year, but I'm looking forward to having some time to work on it."

Who: Bret McKenzie
What: Recently announced as Ambassador for the New Zealand Ukulele Trust, and soon appearing in new film Austenland
When and where: Austenland is in cinemas from October 17, and the NZ Ukulele Festival will take place in Auckland on November 30

NZ Herald
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by emira » Sat Nov 23, 2013 3:21 pm

Ukeleles not just good for firewood
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2013

LATEST GIG: Bret McKenzie is the official "face of ukulele" in New Zealand.

OPINION: Sodden with spit, punctured with multiple tiny holes your clumsy fingers refuse to cover, capable of sounding like a roomful of whistling tea kettles, there's a lot to loathe about the recorder, a medieval baroque instrument that somehow hung around to torture us in modern times.

And yet, in the hope that endlessly tootling away on one might instil a love of music, I was forced to play the bugger at school. So was Wellington actor and musician Bret McKenzie. Part-time Tolkien elf, sporadic Muppet collaborator, occasional member of The Black Seeds and the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, Academy Award winner and, of course, the more compact and beardy half of Flight of the Conchords, McKenzie has done all right for himself. Clearly, his early experiences with the recorder have not scarred him for life.

"I have even pulled out the recorder in Conchords gigs occasionally," he admits from Los Angeles, where he's busy writing the music for a new Muppet movie called The Muppets' Most Wanted. "It allows me to say unlikely things like - I've been dropping some recorder on my recent American tour."

Dropping it into the Grand Canyon, hopefully, to shatter upon sharp rocks. Both McKenzie and I remember recorder tunes we were forced to practise endlessly at school, to the extent that the very sound of them now makes us scan the Yellow Pages for the number of a good trauma counsellor. For McKenzie, that tune was Morning Has Broken by tremulous voiced future Muslim Cat Stevens. For me, it was Greensleeves, an English folk tune composed in 1580, though we just called it "the Mr Whippy song".

"If you imagine the schoolkids of our era all grown up, sitting around a campfire with a bunch of recorders, playing Greensleeves, it's a pretty depressing scene," he says. "Which is partially why I'm such an advocate of getting ukuleles into schools. Some would say the ukulele is just the new recorder, but there's so much more joy in the ukulele."

McKenzie was recently named the 2013 Ambassador of The New Zealand Ukulele Trust, which aims to get more ukes into schools. For the next 12 months he's the official "face of ukulele" in this country. He's the dwarf-guitar go-to guy, only a phone call away whenever a journalist requires sporadic ukulele-related pronouncements.

"The main reason I agreed to do it is that I love the idea of getting ukuleles into schools. It was a music teacher who first got me inspired about music. He was this hippy guy with a big beard who drove to school in his house bus, and us kids would sometimes drive around with him, singing Beatles songs. Really, the ukulele is the ideal first instrument for kids because it's easy to learn, and unlike the recorder you can sing along while you play it. The ukulele has an infectious, joyous quality you can't deny, and as Neil Finn once said, if a song works on a ukulele, it'll work on anything. It's an instrument that thrives on strong, simple melodies, so it's pretty hard to drop some Steely Dan on a ukulele, or some prog rock. And, of course, it's a gateway drug to the electric guitar."

The New Zealand Ukulele Trust stages its annual Ukulele Festival this coming Saturday, November 30, at Waitakere's Trusts Arena in Auckland, a free event that attracts more than 10,000 people. The headline act is the Kiwileles, a massed ukulele orchestra of around 3000 children - the largest nipper uke ensemble in the world. McKenzie's hoping to make it back for the event, assuming he has the new Muppet soundtrack in the bag by then.

"It'll be a great day, I'm sure, though some of my mates would disagree. Some of my friends hate the uke. There's a bit of a backlash, isn't there? Some say New Zealand is a little ukulele crazy at the moment, and I'm one of the people feeding that fire.

Actually, ukes would make pretty good firewood. But you could equally say that the ukulele is a useful personality test, letting you know how cynical someone is. If you take along a ukulele on your first date with someone and they're OK with it, they're probably a nice person.

And if someone's determined to hate the idea of a 7 year old playing a ukulele, they probably have a few unresolved issues from their own childhood. Besides, if nothing else, the ukulele is not a recorder.

Not only is it more tuneful, but also more hygienic. With the ukulele, you can learn to play music without saliva being shared."

The photo choice is quite unfortunate. The mic is like a fly on his nose. 8-)
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by emira » Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:56 am

Bret McKenzie Interview

In your own words what role does music/learning a musical instrument play in children lives?

Playing and learning music has so many positive elements for children. It brings people together, it helps them express themselves, it’s a great educational tool, it’s a doorway to a metaphorical and poetic world, it’s food for the soul, and most importantly it teaches them how to do dance Gangnam Style.

What role does music play in your life?

I love playing and writing music and it’s become my full time job. I’m incredibly lucky to get paid to do it.

What excites you most about the work the NZ Ukulele Trust are doing?

I love the idea of ukuleles being as standard as tomato sauce. I grew up learning the recorder at school and I don’t see many of my friends sitting around jamming out on the recorder. If we can teach children how to play the ukulele we’re investing in a future of awesome bonfire singalongs.

When did you begin playing music?

I think my parents sent me to music lessons when I was about six. I don’t remember. I know I was small and didn’t practice very much.

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