Uke'n like the Ukulele

Published on June 8, 2013
Hannah Wadman-Scanlon, a.k.a Hannah Banana
Tara Bradbury photo


The way Hannah Wadman-Scanlon describes her ukulele, she could be describing herself. “It’s small, it’s happy and it’s cute,” she says of her reasons for liking the instrument, a little bit shyly.

Hannah, a.k.a. Hannah Banana, is just 15 years old but already an accomplished performer. With her sweet voice, long dark hair and infectious, gigantic grin, she’s got the look and the talent of a star.

She dances, has appeared onstage in local musicals, modelled for a Quebec shoe company, and currently stars in preschool children’s show “Mickey’s Farm,” as the only human alongside animals and animated characters.

She’s been playing music since she was a toddler, starting with piano lessons at age four and brass instruments in her church band three years later. A year and a half ago, she was introduced to the ukulele and fell in love.

“For Christmas one year, my friend Elsa gave me a ukulele and she said, ‘It’s an awesome instrument. You should learn how to play it,’ so I did. I was in the middle of teaching myself how to play guitar, but then the ukulele took over.”

Hannah, of Mount Pearl, not only taught herself to play the ukulele quickly (with a little help from Google and YouTube), she began writing her own songs. Within days after she began writing, she accepted another challenge, committing to participate in The Scope’s 2013 RPM Challenge.

RPM is a yearly creative challenge for musicians, requiring them to create a musical album with a minimum of 10 songs or 35 minutes, all within the month of February. It’s open to musicians of any experience and genre, providing the songs are all original.

The Scope offers no prize for those who complete the RPM Challenge, apart from a sense of satisfaction and a public listening party.

“I just had to start writing songs really fast,” Hannah said. “Sometimes you’ll play something and think, oh, that sounds good, and then you’ll play a little more and think, wait, it’s almost exactly like that last song. It’s hard to make sure that they’re different.

“It was kind of scary, because even if you didn’t want to write or if there was nothing you could really think of to write about, you had to do it anyway because you were on a time limit, but it was fun.”

Hannah recorded her RPM CD, “Silver Linings,” in her basement, with the help of cousin Josh Banfield, a member of local award-winning pop group Repartee.

She submitted her CD to the challenge, and later learned it was one of seven of a total of 138 completed RPM albums which used the ukulele as the main instrument, with many others incorporating the toy-sized instrument in songs.

The ukulele — roughly translated from the Hawaiian for “jumping flea” — is definitely a trendy instrument to play at the moment, said Scope editor Elling Lien, who also plays the uke.

Ukulele videos have been increasing in number and popularity on YouTube for the past few years, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder released “Ukulele Songs” two years ago, contributing to its re-entry into the mainstream, but locally, the St. John’s Ukulele Club may be partly responsible for the interest.

The club has a varying number of members (though close to 100 make up its online presence) and its members meet once every two weeks or so to jam.

A handful of club members grouped to form the St. John’s Ukulele Orchestra, and have produced RPM records for the past five years.

There are different kinds of ukuleles, Lien explained, from Hannah’s soprano uke to the baritone uke, which sounds like an upright bass. There are also hybrid instruments, like the guitalele, the banjolele, harp ukulele and lap steel ukulele.

“It’s a pretty amazing instrument,” Lien said. “It’s portable and it’s non-threatening. You can pick up a ukulele and play something that sounds alright pretty quickly, and I think that’s really exciting for people.”

Hannah agreed.

“There are only four strings on the ukulele, so the chords are easier than the guitar. I’d say that’s probably why people like it. It’s really easy to just pick it up and play it.”

Since recording a music video with Heavyweather and making the cover of The Scope with other local ukulele players, Hannah has been even more excited about her songwriting and performing. She performed with the instrument at the Downhome Expo in Mount Pearl in April, and last week performed two original songs on the Janeway Telethon on NTV.

Hannah’s songs, like her instrument, are different than what you might be used to hearing on the radio.

“A lot of my stuff is really happy and uplifting. I find there’s not a lot of stuff like that. A lot of what you hear on the radio is party songs,” she says, smiling.

Her favourite song, if she had to choose, is the first one she ever wrote, called “Brand New Day.” It’s the one she automatically goes to whenever someone says, “Play something,” she explained.

“Hold your head high

Don’t give up

People talk, but so what

Every day is a brand new day

So don’t let words get in the way

Because you are special,” Hannah sings on the tune.

“It’s about not worrying what other people think and what other people say, and just being yourself,” she said.

Hannah’s got a YouTube channel where she posts her homemade videos, and she already has plans to take part in next year’s RPM Challenge.

Eventually, she’d like to record an album on her own in a recording studio with a full band. In the meantime, she just wants to play for as many people as possible.

“I want to perform. Festivals, anywhere — I  just want to keep playing,” she said.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury