Her upcoming tour includes a cruise-ship residency and a variety of repertoire.
By Laurence Vittes
Since she picked up a ukulele in 2013, during a three-month bike journey along the US West Coast from Portland to San Diego, Elisabeth Pfeiffer has never looked back. She has written three method books. She performs solo pieces and the occasional song from a diverse repertoire. Her first solo CD, called Peculiar and released earlier this year, showcases the range and diversity of her repertoire.
In 2016 Pfeiffer decided to work on her performance anxiety and play open mic at the Czech Ukulele Festival in Unetice. In 2017, she worked as a workshop leader for the Austrian Ukulele Festival. In October 2017 she played on the “big stage” for the first time at the Ukulele Festival in Barcelona.
The blossoming German uker is continuing to hit the festival trail. Between January 2020 and July 2021 she will have played some really interesting places. Like the Tropical Winter Ukulele Festival in Leppävirta, Finland, and the Bracklesham Ukulele Weekend on the Isle of Wight. In March 2020, Pfeiffer will entertain on the Big Boat on the Danube Ukulele Cruise through some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery. In June 2021 on Lake Konstanz, she will participate in the Lake a Lele festival.
After teaching for seven years in her Upper Bavarian home town, in 2009 Pfeiffer started an artistic photo course in Vienna and got “a tiny old and very cheap apartment,” which she still has “and will keep forever.” She spoke with Ukulele by phone from her humble abode.
What is it like being a uker in Germany? Is there a big interest in the instrument? In other European countries?
The uke scene in Germany is ever growing. I feel like loads of people want to learn how to play the ukulele and there are more ukulele festivals springing up every year in Austria, Switzerland, Spain, France and other countries. England has its own unique ukulele history and offers paternal advice or inspiration. Many young adults are playing the uke. But they don’t necessarily know about the festivals or the uke world, so I don’t get to meet them as much.
Tell me about your new album. What were you were aiming for? How did you make it happen? How is it being distributed internationally?
My new solo album Peculiar is a showcase of what I do onstage when I’m playing solo. My repertoire consists mostly of pop and rock solo arrangements, but I also enjoy playing Renaissance music, as well as contemporary classical music on the uke. The CD is a mix of all that. It’s all solo ukulele, no other instruments, no voice. Quite naked, really. The album was recorded and mixed by Winston Jud at Sound Fux Studios in rural Bavaria. Working with Winston is amazing, and I feel very lucky to know him. Peculiar can be purchased in my online shop or by sending me an email.
Tell me about your upcoming gigs in Leppävirta, Bracklesham and Lake Konstanz—and the Danube cruise.
I’m so excited about all those gigs! I’ve been to the Leppävirta festival in Finland before and it’s just amazing. Bracklesham is hosted by George Bartle and Amanda Harkett of Opera-lele, so there’s tons of fun to be had. The Lake Konstanz Festival has still a way to go. They were nice enough to book me for 2021, after I couldn’t make it this year due to an injury. And being on the cruise is so amazing! I’m very much looking forward to it!
How they will differ from one another in terms of repertoire, audience, etc.?
Finland is going to be three gigs in one. I’ll be teaching and playing with Charlotte Pelgen as Charlotte & Elisabeth; we play dark and funny, heavily text-based songs, for example by Tom Lehrer. The genre is quite popular in Germany and Austria, so most of our repertoire is in German. However, an English album will be out before Christmas. Additionally, I’ll play solo, premiering pieces that have been composed for me this year. Commissioning new works for ukulele is important to me and I hope to have enough pieces for a CD next year. All the other shows you’ve mentioned will be me solo with the good old mix of different genres.
Have you ever played on a ukulele cruise ship before? If not, what do you expect?
No, I haven’t played cruise ships yet, although I’ve wanted to. I’m beyond excited to test the waters (so to speak) with the Danube Cruise. I’m really looking forward to hanging out with friends in the audience and among the artists. And I think it’s going to be a good balance between studying, sightseeing, and having a good time.
Is the mango from Manila still your favorite instrument? How do you protect it when traveling?
Philippa is an old lady now and has retired a few years ago. She’s enjoying the occasional outing, though. I’ve been playing a custom-made i’Iwi tenor ukulele from Hawaii by Charles Fukuba for almost two years. It’s a great instrument that can make all the different genres come alive. When I travel, I always take it as a carry-on in a Kala case with a humidifier.
How has your life changed since becoming a full-time pro last year?
I’m still not over it in any way! I’ve always been a musician and a music teacher but getting to travel playing the ukulele, making so many new friends and meeting amazing people in the uke world is absolutely a dream come true. I’m very grateful that my life has turned out that way. And while I’ve always liked where I was at, I absolutely love where I get to be right now.