This past Friday night, I had the unique opportunity to see the ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. As I was walking back from class at the end of the day, I saw that the arts center was selling $10 tickets to see him and decided to go, just for the hell of it.
After 2 hours of watching him jam out, I was speechless. It’s hard to explain what made the concert so special. Individual parts stick out to me, like Jake’s near-constant goofy grin whenever he was playing something that he knew sounded awesome, or when he would headbang to his music as his hands flew back and forth along his strings.
His composition was incredible, especially his ability to capture emotions of what each piece was inspired by. One piece stuck out to me in particular, leaving me on the brink of tears. It was called “Ichigo Ichie,” which is an Japanese idiom referring to the idea that every single time we meet someone, that individual moment is something that will only occur once-in-a-lifetime and thus must be treasured. The piece somehow captures the beauty of each moment we spend with each other. It was difficult to keep myself from tearing up – the emotions were as visible on his face as they were audible in the music.
I was awestruck by every piece, as the tiny four-stringed instrument from Hawai’i filled the air with beautiful vibrations. After ending with a tribute to the recent loss of life with Schubert’s Ave Maria, I had the opportunity meet Jake. My legs were shaking while waiting in the line to get a picture and an autograph. I had loved his music for years and had always felt like I knew him through his music. In the meeting that was less than a minute, I was touched. He didn’t get my name, but I had never met someone so genuine and felt like someone cared for me in such a short time. He truly lived the idea of ichi-go ichi-e.
Beyond his music and just the incredible genuineness he showed in a fleeting moment, Jake Shimabukuro’s entire journey is unique. As someone who fell in love with the ukulele at age 4, Jake never let go of his passion for the instrument, instead allowing it to become his livelihood.
Before Jake, the ukulele was rarely considered a serious instrument. Many just thought of it as a “toy guitar” or a gimmicky beach-style instrument at best. Jake was unaffected, releasing albums and just doing his best to make his best stuff. Eventually he got a big break when a video of him playing went viral.
Jake’s dedication to his craft is inspirational. Nothing in his life stops him from following his love of the ukulele, not even the fact that there had never been a successful touring ukulele player. Each and everyone of us could learn something from him. Each and everyone of us should try to love as Jake does.