Ukulele: Oh, the places it will take you

By Sandra K. Klassen –

We often associate the ukulele with Hawaiian culture and we are right to do so. An early version of the ukulele was introduced to the gentle Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants who came to work the sugar cane fields in the late 1800s. The Hawaiian’s soon developed a fondness for this small, versatile instrument and it became the preferred instrument for the gentle Hawaiian musical vibe that many of us are familiar with today. Over time, the fondness for this soothing, rhythmical instrument spilled over to mainland North America and beyond.

When I tell people I have taken up the ukulele in recent months I quickly add, “and don’t laugh”. I say this because those of my generation may associate the ukulele as more of a comedic prop, along the likes of the musician Tiny Tim and the song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”. But some may be surprised at the breadth of the ukulele, from the range of well-known musicians who play it to the musical genres to which it lends itself. The ukulele’s broad range of music genres include, but are not limited to, Hawaiian country, pop, and blues.

The list of famous people who play ukulele includes musicians Eddie Veder, Pearl Jam’s main man, The Beatles, Taylor Swift, Steven Tyler, Willie Nelson, and Taj Mahal, and the likes of people we wouldn’t normally identify as musicians. This group includes Dwayne Johnson “The Rock,” Barack Obama, and Ryan Gosling. Although musically the ukulele may keep a low-profile, it is increasingly well-loved in North America and beyond.

Locally, as in many other communities in British Columbia, ukulele has become quite the sensation over the past few years. Ukulele groups are springing up more and more as people, from children to seniors, are picking up this easy-to-play instrument and enjoying the social aspects of playing in a group. As easy it is to play the ukulele at a beginner level, the ukulele will take you as far as you want to go, musically. Like many instruments, you can play it around a campfire, go to a strum-along session, take individual or group lessons, or you might find yourself advanced enough to fit in with one of the local bands.

There are many in the Cariboo who are finding joy in playing the ukulele. Some started to play several years ago. Presently, the multi-talented LeRae Haynes is spearheading the ukulele movement with her ukulele lessons in a variety of settings, from private to school groups. She can also be heard at various venues in the area playing ukulele and other instruments in several musical groups. Occasionally, she offers workshops—most recently, a picking-style workshop. Other community contacts for ukulele include Sheila Wyse and Sharon Hoffman, eager participants and organizers of the ukulele group Gadzukes. This group, accompanied by a harmonica and accordion, performed Stompin’ Tom Connors’ famous “The Hockey Song” at the recent Hometown Hockey event. Gadzukes has regular sessions Wednesday’s at 10 am at the Senior’s Centre. To find out more about lessons and sessions contact LeRae Haynes, Sheila Wyse, or Sharon Hoffman on Facebook.

Purchasing a ukulele is as easy as walking into the Guitar Seller in downtown Williams Lake. The knowledgeable staff will guide you through selecting a ukulele size:(from smallest to biggest) soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone. And wood matters: lower end ukuleles will likely be made of spruce, mid-range ukes from mahogany, and high-end ukes are often made of koa, a wood from Hawaii. It is best to buy a mid-range ukulele if you are hoping to have some success with this beautiful instrument. You can expect to pay from $80 to $ 400. The Guitar Seller also stocks many uke accessories and will happily order a ukulele in for you to try, if necessary.

Playing ukulele is a soothing and exciting experience. Ukulele has allowed me to play an abundance of songs from my eclectic likes in music. There is nothing like playing “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by The Eagles, then the bluegrass song “Man of Constant Sorrow” written by Dick Burnett and performed by the fictional folk/bluegrass band the Soggy-Bottom Boys in the 2000 movie O’ Brother Where Art Thou.Next, I may play “Sweet Child of Mine’ by Guns ‘N Roses, “Voice Inside My Head” by Miranda Lambert, or Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” also performed by musical greats such as Brenda Lee, Linda Rondstadt, and Amy Winehouse. Wow, the places one can go on ukulele! So, go, now, and enjoy.

Sandra, a Laker, wishes she was smarter, better looking, and that she had become a private investigator. She has many interests and loves to write about them. Overall, she is high on life in the Cariboo and credits that to the locals and the beautiful landscape that surrounds us.

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