Yuke's Ukes

Living life, singing songs, teaching, and telling stories

The Big Picture

When I was young and first learning to ride a bike, the phrase my dad said over and over was to “look at the big picture” and eventually when I stopped staring at the spokes of my wheels and the sidewalk in front of me to see the horizon ahead of me, the task of riding a bike became easy, it was freeing and exhilarating all at once, and I loved it. Horizons and the big picture have always played a large role in my life and I imagine many lives.


Here in Nebraska I have come to truly appreciate the plains for their sunrises and sunsets that stretch out across an endless horizon. I didn’t always feel this way and at many points in my time pursuing my PhD and living in Nebraska my thoughts and eyes have been focused the day to day details, the mundane– the spokes on my wheels or the weeds in the garden. In those moments it is easy to feel somewhat lost or aimless, but the last couple of months and by extension the last year has been rife with exhilarating moments where everything makes sense and my time in the weeds can be looked back upon fondly from my seat overlooking the horizon.

Each interview for the dissertation has felt like therapy– for me, for the participants, for the local music scene— it just feels good. As they answer questions they begin to see themselves from the outside, reliving and reflecting on their experiences and the magic of the first times they made music. For me it is so humbling to be able to hear their stories. As I listen to rich descriptions of musical experiences from one participant to the next, there are some differences in how each person experiences music and what led them to where they are musically, but the commonalities are striking. From genre to genre to sub genre so many are all looking to heal, to feel free, to connect and create community through music.

While I’m not looking for validity or accuracy in a quantitative sense, the idea of validation in this study is omnipresent. Throughout the interview process I have seen participants lean back in their chairs and smile softly, feeling so secure and safe reflecting on their experiences and relationship with music. As an educator and researcher, hearing how pivotal and important music has been in the lives of so many is my own validation, further inspiring me to do my best to help people access music and music making opportunities.

So today, I’ll leave you with a quote from a participant in response to why they first made music and why they keep making music.  My sentiments are the same.

I started because I can and I kept going because I have to.



Amateur Hour

A couple of days ago, I walked to the Mexican grocery store down the street from my house here in Lincoln. I was picking up a few “necessities”,  like saltines and ramen since I have been feeling a little under the weather. As I walked the aisles in the store, I had a silent conversation with myself about how to say I was sick in Spanish (Estoy enferma…) and then I thought about what they would say and what I would say back and so on and so forth. When I reached the register, the cashier asked me, “How are you today?” and at that moment, fear choked up all of my planning and I said in English, “I’m sick.”. I cannot tell you why I feel so afraid of speaking a language that for all intents and purposes I should be practicing in order to communicate with my family and my neighbors, not to mention putting those 6 years of school Spanish to use.

I feel like an amateur. The first definition of amateur is someone who does something (usually a sport or other pursuit) for pleasure and is not paid. The second definition is someone who does something poorly. Well, I guess I know which definition I lean toward. Further, Merriam-Webster defines an amateur as one who lacks experience or competence. That’s how I feel and that’s why I often choose not to participate in activities that build or add to my experience.


Sadly, “The Polly Yukevich Amateur Hour” does not stop with foreign languages. This sense that I am not good enough to do things extends into practically every corner of my life. I am a musician, and in many respects, I think I am a great musician. Although I am currently pursuing my P.h.D. in music education, it is rare that I play music, and even more rare that I play or perform in public. I work at a bar where we have karaoke almost every Thursday, and I often sit out, attending but not singing, feeling plagued by feelings of inadequacy, fear of judgement and a general feeling of anxiety/sadness. There are truly few things that I love more than music and in particular activities like karaoke where anyone can come to the table, and yet I am paralyzed.

I find myself falling into this way of thinking, a cycle of analysis and over analysis which plays out in public like nothing is wrong on the outside and I am screaming with self-doubt and anger on the inside. I become so distraught and upset with myself that I further solidify that I am not good enough, that I lack the necessary experience and that I add nothing to society–my doubts were correct.

These doubts, thoughts and subsequent inaction are most definitely the product of both a lack of experience, but also any number of interactions where I was told or made to feel that I was not enough, and that my potential contribution would not add anything to the world or lives of others. A couple of months ago I became visibly distraught in a conversation with a musician who had self proclaimed them self the gatekeeper of who could call themselves a “singer”, a “French Horn player”, a “bass player”, etc. They believe, as do many, that only those who are “masters” of their trade, or in this case instrument (just one) can claim to be a player– no one else is worthy of the distinction. I tried to level with him and talk about the ability of every person to be musical and make music, and how detrimental this idea of gate keeping can be to a person who has an interest in making music. I left the conversation peacefully, but my face way flushed and all a sea of emotions (rage, anger, embarrassment, inadequacy, sadness) whirred in my head and heart.

Even as I write this blog, I have extreme feelings of self doubt and the urge to delete every other word. As I pursue a degree in Philosophy there is no shortage of phiosophical thought, ranting, and writing in my life, but not very often do I share my thoughts or ideas with anyone other than my husband, and occasionally my dog when I’m working through something. I worry that my ideas are too radical, too conservative (not often), invalid, rambling, unhelpful, etc– I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

So, all of this is to say that I don’t like this behavior and I don’t like that I see it in others as well as myself. I don’t like how uncomfortable the thought of making myself vulnerable or communicating my feelings, thoughts and ideascan be. It’s a product of a lot of conditioning in any number of circumstances and I don’t want it to continue– at least on my end. I want to put myself out there. I want to have conversations in Spanish and mess up. I want to sing in front of my friends and colleagues without fear of judgement, of not being good enough. I want to write about the way that music makes me feel and how I think we could be educating students that might be better. I want to voice my concern, and put my thoughts into action. I want to have difficult conversations with friends, family members and strangers. I am not making any promises of drastic change– but I’m starting a process, admitting I have a problem, seeking solutions and self-acceptance (similar to AA).

My name is Polly, and I have an amateur problem. Cheers to first steps and vulnerability.

Nebraska and Life Paths

So, I live in Nebraska now. So does #freyathedog pictured below with the Nebraska capital in the background.12194915_534170452827_1307608785394366548_o

Life, as I have said so many times before, is if anything, unpredictable. You never quite know where you are going or what you’re doing, but there are moments of confusion followed by those of enlightenment and clarity. Finding a way to remain balanced and happy through all of those moments is a skill I am still honing, but thankfully garnering day by day.

A path presented itself to me last year that has led me here to Lincoln where I am enrolled as a PhD student in music education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. My graduate work at the University of Illinois was transformative personally and professionally and I think my time here at Nebraska is no different. In just the past few months I have come to learn more about myself and my chosen profession. To be honest, my most recent epiphanies leave me with more questions than answers.

I am posting today to post. To get back in the habit of public and private self reflection, both personal and professional. I am posting the hopes that someone is reading, even if it’s just me at a later date. I am posting as I continue to strive for happiness and fulfillment for myself and others. For me, I know music, specifically the act of making music plays a part in my identity and happiness, but I am quite unsure of it’s overall place or role in my life. Stay tuned, my hope is for more musings and less vagueness in the near future.

Ukulele at The Red Lion in Lincoln Square!

I’ll be hosting a couple of ukulele jams/sing-a-longs at the Red Lion in Lincoln Square this summer and I want you to join me! We’ll do some tunes by the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Folk Songs, and any other requests we get from the crowd. The Queen wants to hear you sing!

Who: YOU!

What: Ukulele Jam/Sing-a-long

Where: The Red Lion, 4749 N Rockwell St, Chicago, IL 60625

When: 7:30pm, specific dates to be determined

ImageWe’ll gather around 7:30pm for a brief lesson to learn some chords and then from 8:00 on play, sing, share stories,  and enjoy the fabulous atmosphere, libations, and food at The Red Lion. I’m going to toss out a couple of dates below to figure out when we can get the most people together. Make a comment on this post to say you’d like to come on a specific day or days. Bring a uke if you have one, but I’ll have about 15 ukes to share, chord charts, and music. More details soon!

Possible Dates

Tuesday, July 9th

Saturday, July 13th

Sunday, July 14th

Tuesday, July 16th

Wednesday, July 17th


Here’s the Story: An evening of storytelling and participatory music making!


This evening I’ll be gathering with some amazing storytellers and people from all over Chicago at Theater Wit to exchange stories, share some delicious food, and play/sing a song together.

Here’s the Story is this amazing not-for-profit bringing together Chicago’s various creative communities, creating opportunities for connection, and fostering the art of storytelling and listening. They  provide a platform of support for the work of known and developing storytellers, monologists, and solo performers. It’s pretty amazing.

If you have the evening free and want to mingle and meet some really swell people from all walks of life AND join in some participatory music making then you should drop by and check it out! Hope to see you there, if not tonight, perhaps another month.

Tonight’s Show:

Where: Theater Wit

When7:30 potluck/ 8pm show

Tickets: $8 at the door, FREE if you bring a dish for the potluck
to avoid being turned away, please purchase tickets in advance here!

Music’s Biggest Night

The Grammy Awards are hailed as the “biggest night in music”. People from every aspect of the music industry gather and collectively pat each other on the back. The night also features performances from the hottest acts out there that range from the serene to the extreme, as well as collaborations between artists we never imagined together (Elton John and Eminem or Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, and Linkin Park). Personally, I’m still waiting for the Phish/Snoop Dogg collabo, it will be epic, no doubt.

I mean, they've covered "Gin and Juice", it's bound to happen.
I mean, they’ve covered “Gin and Juice”, it’s bound to happen.

So we, the general public, watch at home waiting for the bizarre choices in attire, crazy performances (Gaga and that egg?!?), and rooting for our favorite acts, but ultimately, our opinion doesn’t matter, right? The Grammys are decided by “industry” professionals who belong to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Granted it’s made up of over 6,000 professionals from mixers to sound engineers to artists so it is at least a varied group. I worked for a professor in undergrad who was a member and when he got the envelope with the choices for the year I VERY much wanted to fill it out myself and send it in, but I never did. Looking through the nominees/winners for the years I worked for him makes me a little mad– how did some of these acts “win”?!

In the end it is a matter of personal taste, the whole one man’s trash is another man’s treasure–to prove something is objectively good or bad means little if it is subjectively “loved”. Tonight we will most likely find ourselves both pleased and displeased with the results because what we like or deem as “good” is a matter of personal taste. The members of the academy have cast their votes for a variety of reasons built on criteria they have set up themselves and reflecting their personal tastes. I’m not saying that winning a Grammy isn’t an accomplishment– it is.

There’s a lot of music out there, a lot of music that will never be nominated because of a myriad of reasons and obstacles. Personally, I’d love to see people like Theresa Andersson, Jake Bugg, or Kings of Convenience nominated, but again, it’s personal. It should also be said that I love me some Taylor Swift and hate me some Pink.

I've just been looking for an excuse to use a graphic like this, and I can't stand her songs-- but you can like her, that's cool.
I’ve just been looking for an excuse to use a graphic like this, and I can’t stand her songs– but you can like her, that’s cool.

Here are my picks for the big categories tonight.


The Black Keys “El Camino”

For me, this is the most complete “album”. It rocks my face off, song after song.

Fun. “Some Nights”

Mumford & Sons “Babel”

Frank Ocean “Channel Orange”


This one is all about production, not composition.

The Black Keys “Lonely Boy”

Kelly Clarkson “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

Fun. featuring Janelle Monae “We Are Young”

Gotye featuring Kimbra “Somebody That I Used to Know”

Frank Ocean “Thinkin Bout You”

Taylor Swift “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

My pick would actually be for “I Knew You Were Trouble”, but I think that this one was equally well done.


Ed Sheeran “The A Team”

Miguel “Adorn”

Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”

Yup. I said it. With the choices we have, why not pick the humorous, catchy pop-tune that gets stuck in everyone’s head. 

Kelly Clarkson “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

fun. “We Are Young”


This is a TOUGH one for me. Since I don’t have to play by the rules I’m making it a tie between the Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers. They are both really solid groups with completely different sounds.

Alabama Shakes


Hunter Hayes

The Lumineers

Frank Ocean


Drake “Take Care”

Lupe Fiasco “Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1”

Nas “Life Is Good”

The Roots “Undun”

This album is really well done, varied and thoughtful.

Rick Ross “God Forgives, I Don’t”

2 Chainz “Based on a T.R.U. Story”


Zac Brown Band “Uncaged”

I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to the other acts in this category but I can’t help but like Zac Brown Band, they’re fun loving and happy, and I dig it.

Hunter Hayes “Hunter Hayes”

Jamey Johnson “Living For a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran”

Miranda Lambert “Four the Record”

The Time Jumpers “The Time Jumpers”


The Black Keys “El Camino”

Coldplay “Mylo Xyloto”

Muse “The 2nd Law”

Bruce Springsteen “Wrecking Ball”

Jack White “Blunderbuss”

Although I really like all the acts nominated I think Jack White killed it with this album. The songs feel real to me and resonate with my sound palette as well as my heart– it’s mellow at times, but it’s rock through and through.


Kelly Clarkson “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

Florence & the Machine “Ceremonials”

fun. “Some Nights”

Tons of catchy tunes that range from upbeat to introspective as well as 20 million harmonies on the title track. Reminiscent of Queen at times but it’s own beast as well.

Maroon 5 “Overexposed”

Pink “The Truth About Love”


Adele “Set Fire to the Rain” (Live)

Kelly Clarkson “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”

What can I say, I love this girl, well, I love her more than I love the other artists. Adele is good and I like her, but I think I listened to that album too much when it first came out.

Katy Perry “Wide Awake”

Rihanna “Where Have You Been”


Avicii “Levels”

Calvin Harris featuring Ne-Yo “Let’s Go”

As far as “dance” music, this is the one I could attempt to dance to. I don’t know how to dance to dub step really, but I would put Skrillex in at a close second just based on sound.

Skrillex featuring Sirah “Bangarang”

Swedish House Mafia featuring John Martin “Don’t You Worry Child”

Al Walser “I Can’t Live Without You”

If you watch tonight, don’t be discouraged or downtrodden if that act that you hate wins or you know none of the nominees in the historical or production categories. Revel in the pageantry, laugh at the jokes, take in the performances–the good and the bad and keep hoping for the Phish/Snoop Dogg collabo, you know I will be.

Feature About Some of My Newest Students!

Recently the magazine Hinsdale 60521 visited me and my students at an early morning rehearsal.  The result it a nice little vignette about beginning orchestra and features a stellar performance of “Mary Had a  Little Lamb”.  I hope you enjoy it!


It’s been a while, I know! It’s 12:15am, the night before my first official day at my new school.  I see no sign of sleep soon.  Just like a kid, I am overcome with excitement, anticipation and to some degree, worry:  “Will the other kids like me? Will it be hard?  Will I measure up?”.

There are so many things I love about the beginning of the new school year.  Everyone is fresh off of some adventure, whether it was in a distant land or in their backyard.  The 3 months of summer give us time off to grow and change and bring something new back with us.  The weather is turning from oppressive heat to the crisp, cool air of fall and everyone looks snazzy in new outfits.  Summer is great, but it’s so refreshing to get back together at school and again get the chance to connect with students and colleagues sharing our experiences and passions.

The joy of the new school year makes waking up around 6am more tolerable.  For me, every morning that I struggle from lack of sleep or gloomy weather, I am met with the most amazing days.  It’s not that my students are angels on those days, or things even go as I planned, but most often on those days I am brought out of my stupor by a student or students who unknowingly open my eyes, warm my heart and teach me about life.   Kids are awesome.  Humans are awesome.  Can you tell I’m in a pretty good mood from my observations on humanity?  We all have the propensity to get caught up in the day to day routine and drama of life, but we also have the capacity to live each day joyously and without caution or fear.  That’s my goal this year.  To have as many amazing days with my students, colleagues, friends, and family as possible.

I only hope to bring my students the same joy and opportunity they afford me each day.  I wish everyone a great back to school season, whether you are a teacher,a student, a parent or community member– take it in, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the feeling of eager anticipation for what will be a great year (this is a sappy post, wow).

PS- ISYMers, I’m working on some charts and links and fun stuff.  Comment on this post or the ISYM post with any ideas or questions.


Check Out Leading Notes!

I recently wrote a piece for Leading Notes, a online music education magazine.  It details the ukulele project, cross-curricular learning as well as how it helped me grow as an educator. Sometimes we are unaware of the personal and professional growth we are experiencing until it is over or at least plateaus.  For me the ukulele project was something that came out of an effort to take more risks and expand the breadth and reach of my teaching–in the end it did all of that and continued to change me as an educator.

Check out the new issue, “Educating the New Educator” and my piece, “Grad School, Big Dreams and Little Ideas:  Cross Curricular Learning and Yuke’s Ukes”.  

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