We’re a Ukulele Band
Original folk songs rub elbows with melodious Vivaldi concertos and bouncy jazz tunes in programs that are fun, eclectic and unique -- all performed with different sized ukuleles and voices.
Founded in 2014, Ukulele Drive has been featured on public television, at the Silver Creek International Ukulele Carnival and Great Minnesota Uke Gathering, performed for the Minnesota Guitar Society and entertained at house concerts, senior living homes, and at community events.
Our recipe? Mix together members of a former bluegrass band who have been smitten with the bubbly, happy sound of the ukulele, with friends from the jazz, classical, and early music worlds. Mix in a good helping of original tunes with covers of songs from the “golden ages” of the ukulele (1920s, 1940s, and today). Season with some classical and world music melodies. Serve cool and fresh.
We hope you’ll enjoy the ride!
Ukulele Drive members are:
Bob Berg -- ukulele and voice
Doug Wright -- ukulele and voice
Emily Wright -- ukulele and voice
Julie Elhard -- ukulele and voice
Peggy Larson -- ukulele and voice
Rocky Mjos -- ukulele
Please contact us about performing for your group or organization.
The original uke?
Rocky (c. 1998) playing a 4-course Renaissance guitar (c. 1550).
Do you see a family resemblance between the uke the Renaissance guitar?
Rocky Mjos has played and studied old time music since the 70s. Appalachian music? -- Way too modern! His musical path led from electric rock 'n' roll, to acoustic pop, to classical guitar -- which opened his ears and curiosity to music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods (c. 1500 - 1750). He took up the lute, then another size lute, then the cittern (a wire-strung cousin of the lute).
That strummed 4-course cittern added a lot of rhythmic energy to Renaissance dances -- but tuning was a nightmare! So to replace it, Rocky got a Renaissance guitar. The instrument had four pairs of strings, a sprightly and bright sound plus a familiar my-dog-has-fleas tuning. Could this have been the ancestor to the machete from Madiera, and the great-grandfather to the ukulele?
Rocky mostly plays the baritone uke with Ukulele Drive -- the often overlooked, big brother of the uke family. And the chords are the same as on a guitar!
When not busy with Ukulele Drive, Rocky performs as a soloist and accompanist on various lutes and historic and modern guitars and has been a guest artist with many Minnesota-based early music soloists and ensembles. He has played on recordings with the Chambure Vihuela Quartet and The Beggar’s Banquet. He has performed in many European countries, at several early music festivals, and been broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Dutch National Radio. He also enjoys researching and editing music for the instruments he plays.
He studied classical guitar with Dan Estrem (who has made many recordings which include uke!), and historic plucked instruments at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (NL).
When not tuning any of the 119 strings on his various instruments, Rocky is an award-winning graphic designer. He can't remember what happened to the family uke from his childhood. He does remember the felt pick.
Since her premiere performance in church at age three, singing "Winds through the Olive Trees" with her brother and sister, Peggy's life has been filled with the joy of music -- whether it is singing jazz and improvised music, leading choirs, or teaching workshops in improvisation, vocal techniques and world music.
Her love for ukulele started in high school as she watched her cousin play. With her confirmation money, she purchased her first ukulele -- a baritone. With it she too, like Doug, sang the hits of Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio. Years later she branched out to Joni Mitchell and traded the uke in for a guitar, gaining an artistic and underground following by singing for Francs in front of the Pompidou Museum and in the tunnels of the Paris metro.
She lived in The Netherlands for many years, where she was well known as a leader in choral music (Peggy’s Angels and Tamam), as a singer of contemporary jazz, and leader of the Peggy Larson Band.
Now in the USA, she performs as a soloist, lectures on kulokk (see below), and is Cantor at Pilgrim Lutheran Church (for their Celtic and Nordic services). She also directs the Portland Avenue Methodist Church Sanctuary Choir, and the Earthtones Women's Choir.
She taught voice and vocal pedagogy at McNally Smith College of Music (MN) and at the Rotterdam and Arnhem conservatories (NL). In the past few years she has lectured at the International Society of Music Educators Conference (Greece), performed in Amsterdam (NL), and taught at Mount Holyoke College for Women (MA) and at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (India).
Peggy also specializes in the ancient Norwegian vocal tradition of kulokk — cow calling! After years of research, she is making a book that tells the history and teaches the vocal technique of kulokk, including transcriptions of many of its beautiful melodies. Learn more at her website.
Julie Elhard is fairly new to the ukulele, but has specialized in viola da gamba since 1987 when she moved to the Netherlands to pursue her interest in early music. Her experience there fueled her burning desire to make music a transformative experience, both for the performer and the listener. Julie has performed in both Europe and the United States, including the Matthew Passion arias and the solo sonatas by J.S. Bach.
Julie is sought after as a soloist and has appeared with such renowned ensembles as The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, The Lyra Baroque Orchestra, and the Bach Society of Minnesota. As a chamber musician, Julie has toured with Cecilia’s Circle, Violes Egales and Trio Atlantica, and was a founding member of Glorious Revolution Baroque.
Julie’s devotion to education and the experience of giving her son viola da gamba lessons at age six led her to writing a new method for the gamba in order to make the ancient instrument and repertoire accessible to the young child.
You can enjoy some of her classical music or order her viola da gamba method at her website.
Emily Youngdahl Wright is happiest and at her best when playing music with friends and family. She comes from a musical family and has been singing, writing music, and playing instruments since she was a child. Her father was a music professor and her mother taught piano lessons and conducted the church choir. She learned to read music by turning pages at the piano for her mother, learned guitar from her father by watching his fingers on the strings, and learned to sing harmony from her sister, Janet Youngdahl.
Emily is the Managing Director for the Minnesota Guitar Society and teaches part time as a private voice, guitar and ukulele instructor. She has been a member of an acapella group, Remembrance Ensemble, performing and creating music from Baha'i Scripture since 1985. She met her husband Doug Wright when she was singing and they created a folk music group, NE Triangle, in 1988, with their friend, Bob Berg.
In 2010, Doug and Emily began teaching ukulele with near religious fervor to anyone who would listen, show up for practice and play along.
Her choral compositions of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and Edward Everett Hale have been performed by the 5th grade, middle school and high school choirs in Montevideo, Minnesota, where she was honored to work directly with the students during the school day. In 2014 she was commissioned to set a poem by the Minnesota poet laureate, Joyce Sutphen, to music. The piece, What the Heart Cannot Forget, was premiered in October, 2014.
During the fall of 2014 and early winter of 2015 she worked with Amoke Kubat, a writer, community elder, and artist living in North Minneapolis to create the “YO MAMA! Ukulele Lullaby Orchestra.” Emily worked with the mothers and children of that project to teach them how to play the ukulele and how to write their own music.
She has a degree in English with a minor in Music on oboe and voice from the University of Minnesota as well as a license in family and parent education from St. Cloud State University. Emily is a grant writer, a composer, a poet and writer of many unpublished folk and children’s stories. She volunteers as a music teacher when she has time at area shelters for battered women and homeless families. She keeps a blog at begoodandimeanit.wordpress.com.
Doug took up the ukulele somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade after receiving a banjo uke for Christmas. Teaming up with Bill Fleming, the duo played all the material from the "Kingston Trio" and "Peter Paul and Mary" songbooks in their posession until the 3rd and 4th graders at Edison Elementary grew weary of their repertoire.
The next Christmas brought a guitar and the uke went into a closet and was lost over the years.
A cornet career starting in 5th grade and spanning 2 years came to a halt when Doug hinted to the 7th grade band leader that he was thinking of leaving the band. Surprisingly the band instructor said he was thinking the same thing.
Two days later Doug traded his cornet for a 12-string Harmony Stella guitar. He neglected to mention any of this to his parents -- Sorry Dad!
Doug's interest in the uke was rekindled after Emily brought home a $3.00 garage sale Harmony soprano uke in the early 2000's. The Internet revealed a brave new ukulele world and Doug jumped back in the water.
Doug distinguishes himself in the band as the only member bearing a ukulele related scar, related to a home repair of a sister's ukulele, carelessly left on a chair. The sister in question not only cannot remember the repair, she has no recollection of ever owning a ukulele.
Whether laying down a solid rhythm, plunking out a low bass line, or adding rich vocal harmonies, Bob is one of the “fun”damental members of Ukulele Drive. He has played for decades with Emily and Doug, in various bluegrass bands, and in the genre-blending group NE Triangle in settings ranging from music festivals to television features to intimate house concerts.