Ukeles draw new and proficient musicians to Featherstone

Deirdre DeCarion (in back) Candy Lincoln, Carolyn Daniele, Linda Zarrow, Catherine Plesz, Clara Kisko (from left rear) follow the instruction of Deirdre DeCarion. — Photo by Gwyn McAllitser

If you’re thinking of taking up a musical instrument, there’s something very appealing about the idea of group lessons where there’s a beer break and the class motto is “When you’re in trouble playing — sing louder.” But then there’s something universally appealing about the ukelele — the instrument being featured in the lessons offered throughout this month at Featherstone Center for the Arts.

Featherstone’s new (and already popular) Wednesday Uke Jams are informal play-along, sing-along sessions with instruction offered for beginners. Deirdre DeCarion, who leads the group, selects songs with simple chord changes, and others contribute selections. An overhead projector is used for sheet music with lyrics and the group plays through the first time slowly and then picks up the tempo.

The Uke Jams were started by Ms. DeCarion and Clara Kisko who regularly attend a Uke Jam in their off-season home in Toronto. Ms. Kisko notes that between 80 and 100 people participate weekly in the Toronto jam, which is held in a pub. Ms. DeCarion has played string instruments since she was a kid and is a former teacher, so it seemed a natural for her to lead a class.

The first week was an intro class and each session since has featured a different theme. The group tried out 1960s music and Caribbean tunes the first two weeks, and last Wednesday participants were asked to supply music appropriate for Thanksgiving. Among the selections brought in by the eight attendees were “Home on the Range” (with lyrics changed to “Home on the Vineyard”) and “This Land is Your Land.”

Catherine Plesz and Linda Zarrow have been playing ukelele together, along with a third woman, for a couple of years now. They were happy to find a group to join. “It’s really fun playing with a lot of different people,” Ms. Zarrow said.

William Waterway and Candy Lincoln have both found the jams a good incentive to dust off ukeleles they had sitting around at home. Ms. Lincoln’s husband purchased a baritone uke (a larger version of the standard instrument) through the Bargain Box years ago but never learned to play.

Ms. Lincoln found out about the classes, and she now practices for an hour and a half every day. “Since I’ve been doing it I’ve fallen in love with it,” she said.

Carolyn Daniele lived in uke-friendly Hawaii for a while. “It was all around me, but I never thought I could do it,” she said. She bought a ukele for around $40 to join in the class and she says, “I’ve already got a callous. I’m so proud.”

The class has attracted up to 15 people. Ms. DeCarion says that new students can jump in at any time. There are just a few chords to master. A few other instruments, including a kazoo and a mini steel drum called a mojo also made the rounds among spectators last week.

The group is considering a concert at one of the senior centers and possibly marching in the Christmas parade, but for the most part, it’s simply about camaraderie and sharing music.

Ms. Daniele said, “It’s just community getting together and having fun.” Pass the beer.