The ukulele may be one of the smallest stringed instruments but it is big on fun for players and group entertainment.
A ukulele group started about five years ago by a small group of retired teachers continues to blossom and grow today.
“A bunch of us wanted to pick up the uke and we met and sort of taught ourselves,” says Sharon Hoffman, one of the members who led a beginners workshop for Culture Days in September.
“Our motto is ‘no angst,’” Hoffman says. “We play and plunk, go to Retirement Concepts once a month, and there is the occasional other performance that we do, but no one is pressured to do these.”
The group is called GadZukes and now includes up to about 20 people from all walks of life. Sometimes the group is smaller depending on the schedules of members who work or travel.
The members originally took turns hosting gatherings in their homes but then retired teacher Sheila Wyse arranged for the group to practice at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre. They play at the arts centre Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
On the third Wednesday of each month they entertain residents at the Seniors’ Village.
“Most of us took workshops with band teacher Mike Butterfield, who used to plunk with us, and also we’ve had workshops with Diamond Tooth Molly who has taught up at Wells,” Hoffman says.
Butterfield taught ukulele and the band program at Sacred Heart School, and directed the Williams Lake Community Band before moving to Nelson a couple of years ago.
She says Molly is from Victoria and gave a weekend workshop in the lakecity in the fall of 2014.
She says most of the original members own song books put together by Molly and bring songs they have found online for the group to play. There is no fee to join the group but once a year everyone chips in to have music photocopied. Pam Hedley Smith keeps the music organized for the group.
“We do not have a leader,” Hoffman says. “When we get together we take turns suggesting the next song to play. Or we introduce new songs to try.”
For the first 40 to 50 minutes of a session she says they play slower songs with the most familiar chords and fewer chord changes.
“Later on we may choose songs that are more challenging,” Hoffman says.
“At this time the new people will play what they can, and learn new chords at their own pace. There is no pressure to keep you, you just do what you can. New people are welcome.”
She says people who don’t want to come to a session cold will find lots of ukulele tutorials online.
“There are two tunings for ukulele,” Hoffman says. “We all have the ‘C’ tuning on our ukes, so if people go out to buy a uke, it is best to get one that is tuned this way.”
Hoffman says she has read that some retirement homes have a ukulele program because it keeps the fingers nimble, and it is really good socially to be a part of this sort of group.
“The ukulele is a great little instrument,” Hoffman says.
“It is not expensive. It is portable and a very social instrument. You can learn about five chords and that gives you so many songs to play. You can keep it simple, or make it fancy, and people from all levels can play together.”
She says GadZukes plays a lot of folk songs, old rock, Beatles, some Second World War songs, gospel songs and more. At the Seniors Village recently they had requests for Hank Williams songs and the Tennessee Waltz.
She says they also enjoy playing a couple of songs written by LeRae Haynes, one called Amadeus the Goat, and another for the BC SPCA encouraging people to spay and neuter their pets.
“It is quite funny. The opening line is ‘Give me a snip, a clip, food and water, put me in the bath or I smell….’’’ Hoffman says.
“It was fun plunking and singing this with Angela Sommer’s little kids choir.”