01 July 2012

( ukulele, anyone ? )

by gillian slater

the ukulele—it’s the next big thing these days, so strongly in fact, that it’s already here. and it’s so here that the tri-county area’s largest selection and supply is tucked into the former cherry’s flowers storefront in boyertown which is now the cozy musical home of funky frets.
at the center of it all with a curious and well-honed expertise on the subject (at least in this nugget of southeastern pennsylvania) is curt sheller who owns the fret-happy shop with his wife, bernadette, and his daughter, kelly thompson.
aside from bringing the widest selection and variety of ukuleles to the region, funky frets is gearing up to offer not only instruments for purchase and private lessons on all sorts of musical gems, but how-to workshops are also on the lineup, with some of them free. during the free ones, workshop-goers are welcome to borrow instruments hanging from the walls in the time when they test out their skills through curt’s instruction.

the family trio, from the pottstown area, chose boyertown for the home of funky frets because of its great location in proximity to so many nearby towns and based on one day renting some of their instruments out to boyertown students. right now, area students must travel to reading in order to sample-play and purchase instruments for school.
curt began playing the ukulele roughly twenty years ago, during a time when there was virtually no material on the instrument. he more or less had to teach himself. by 2003 though, he began to play it more seriously during a family trip to north dakota.
as a result of his years of research and experimentation, curt has published several dozen books about guitar, bass, and ukulele using his own publishing company, curt sheller publications, with many of the ukulele ones unique in that they’re at higher levels of playing, while most books available on playing the instrument are just introductory.

 ( the ukulele is an adaptation of an instrument brought 
to hawaii by the portugeuese in the late 1800s )
a lot of the growing interest in ukuleles in the past year or so seems to stem from how happy, upbeat, and just plain charming the music from them sounds.
it’s interesting to observe though how the ukulele is an especially socially-oriented instrument, drawing people in and perking moods with each quick pluck. and even more peculiar yet smirk-worthy is how the blues can only sound happy when strummed on a ukulele.
“none of the stores are carrying the intermediate to higher-end brand ukuleles. they sort of treat them as a novelty. most of the people that work there, their knowledge is just passing knowledge, sort of jumping on the bandwagon.  it starts out very easy, and you can take your guitar knowledge and play the ukulele, but then it quickly becomes an instrument of its own,” curt says.
the hardest thing about teaching someone how to play the ukulele or any instrument is that your mind and ears are the first to learn, while the fingers are lagging behind. people may think it looks easy, but it takes time to develop motor skills that haven’t been tested out before. it’s worth it, though, many agree, compelled by the love of making sound.
to read about funky frets’ ukuleles and to find out more, visit www.funkyfrets.com.

( feel the need to thrive with a positive vibe ? )

by gillian slater

[thrive] is the perfect name for the opportunity kevin berger brings to others. he turns the usual verb into a compellingly fitting adjective through [thrive] acupuncture center in boyertown along north reading avenue. as the owner and osteopathic acupuncturist, he combines western medicine and eastern medicine to treat his patients.
eastern medicine pushes beyond just keeping you healthy. it helps to heal your social, mental, and physical health, which is part of the reason why berger chose it as his area of study.
“i was always interested in different travel, philosophies, and culture,” berger says. “i was constantly reading about that when i was younger.”
after graduating from kutztown university, studying psychiatry and english, berger attended the pacific college of oriental medicine in san diego, california for four years.
as it turns out, traditional chinese medicine enables you to do both psychology and healing. 

his time spent outside of berks county also included study at beijing national acupuncture training center, guang anmen hospital, dong feng hospital, beijing children’s hospital, beijing tuina hospital, wang jing hospital, and the beijing military hospital in china.
acupuncture itself is so much more than just coming in for help. there is an entire process to ensure that you get the best-customized care imaginable. from start to finish: a questionnaire that covers all angles of your health, followed by diagnostics that include a tongue analysis. be sure to brush your teeth ! then depending on the specific treatment required, you rest face up or face down and await treatment while berger identifies bodily acupuncture points where the needles will begin their labors.
“for every one issue people come in for, there may be six treatments,” berger explains.
and as an example to show how every case varies so much with the individual, he posed that if three people came to an acupuncturist for insomnia, they might receive three completely different treatment regiments. the needles would go in different places, and there may be different dietary recommendations. why ? while the ailment is the same, the causes may be different.
and being comfortable is the key word. berger’s patients come out of sessions often saying that it felt like the most peaceful experience they’ve ever had. 

many people go in thinking they’ll see one hundred needles nestled into their skin, in a painful set of moments. and yet in reality, a majority of them drift off to sleep during treatment.

patients come in for maintenance once a month to once every couple of months. however, everyday maintenance is reserved for more severe conditions like a stroke or a herniated disk; different needles are used for different treatments.
japanese needles are smaller and fine. chinese needles are larger and courser, to create a stronger sensation. auricular needles are even smaller and finer. they are used primarily on the ears and sometimes the face.
the needles go in mostly unnoticed with the exception of a possible dull throb via the chinese ones. this is because the needles don’t go in very far. they are only required to go in about a quarter of an inch before hitting the intended point. the needles stimulate the body’s healing processes by creating  microtraumas within, activating it to begin repairing and rejuvenating.
“every day, my receptionist says that it’s as though one person will go in, and another person will walk out,” berger beams in expressing how transformative even a single acupuncture session can be for those physically suffering in any number of ways in their lives or just looking to take preventative measures to keep their health and wellbeing going in a better direction.

 ( while most never say they love needles, these kinds end up becoming a variety many people enjoy )

sessions are usually an hour because the longer you leave the needles in, the more sedate the condition becomes. as a result of treatment, most patients notice a change either immediately or within the first 72 hours. it’s not only their ailments that begin to simmer, though. their mood takes influence and improves as well, berger observes regularly. people go in feeling down and come out uplifted. berger has even had spouses call him up and thank him for the impeccable change in a beloved’s demeanor.

the majority of berger’s patients come in for pain management, but relief from menopausal symptoms, stress, anxiety, depression, and mood/psychological disorders is also common. cancer patients seek relief for the side effects of chemotherapy and pain resulting from therapy or surgery. such practices grew so popular that some hospitals offer acupuncture alongside more traditional cancer treatments. another trend popped up and brought with it an increase in clients. fertility. many in vitro clinics actually require acupuncture, which can help boost fertility by sixty percent.

smoking cessation is another reason people visit berger, and in fact, the office has had a swarm of calls in recent weeks from those interested in learning to quit smoking through acupunctural assistance. since bodies are already warm, and cigarettes are, too, those factors combined with the heat of summer months aggravate a person’s insides enough to provoke the curiosity of quitting the habit. this is certainly carrying a seasonal pattern to it.
berger says that staying in california where his line of work is already so widely accepted would’ve been far too simple. he enjoys a good challenge, and the greatest one he faces is educating skeptics. in fact, some of his southeastern pennsylvania patients were former skeptics, ones who came to him only as a last resort with their excruciating pain and discomfort. they are surprised to learn that not only is acupuncture effective, but it’s a complete form of medicine, designed to help treat almost all conditions.
berger also offers herbal remedies, cupping, and moxibustion.
cupping is like a massage, although instead of pushing down on skin, it is pulled up with glass cups which have comfortably rounded edges. suction is created after berger lights a bit of alcohol inside the glass to take the oxygen out. cupping provides relief from certain colds, the flu, and other illnesses. and it can serve to alleviate a knotted up back or even to help a patient lose weight or reduce cellulite.
moxibustion is the burning of an herb, artemisia herba, either directly or indirectly on skin. direct contact comes from placing a smoldering piece of the herb on the skin after applying preventative burn cream. indirect contact entails placing a small amount of the herb on the end of an acupuncture needle. the warmth comes from an inferred burn, which penetrates the skin without scorching it. 

( packed artemisia herba is stocked for treatments of moxibustion )

“every day is completely different, and i have the opportunity to help people feel better,” berger reflects on what he loves about being the acupuncturist on the block.
and for patients who don’t have the funds to seek treatment, there is an alternative. berger started a community outreach program where people are welcome to come in for minor pain at discounted rates—this offering is done a few times per year. those with severe pain are welcome, but they will require at least one normal session so berger can personalize their treatments.
berger’s work has also opened a couple of doors for him. the boyertown area community wellness council invited him to present two sly-brained flicks through its living healthy film documentary series. he recently presented an environmental documentary called thrive. the upcoming film is called 9,000 needles, which is about a body builder who suffered from a devastating stroke and went through western treatments to no avail before going to china for acupuncture and eastern therapies. the fellow entered the program in a wheelchair but walked out, by the end. berger is presenting 9,000 needles at frecon’s hard bean cafĂ© in boyertown on tuesday, 11 september @ 6.30 p.m.
to learn more and see what else berger offers, visit thriveacupuncturecenter.com.