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Sunday, Feb. 25
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

Ukulele Club brings players together to share, play music

Ukulele Club

“She’s got everything she needs / She’s an artist / She don’t look back.”

Julia Livingston’s curly hair bobs and her legs bounce in her seat as she strums her tenor ukulele.

As the rest of group catches on to playing the song for the first time, they chime in, singing.

“She never stumbles / She got no place to fall.”

Surrounded by walls with a faint gray strip, the Monroe County Public Library meeting room holds a sound that is the opposite of the drab walls.

The Bloomington Ukulele Club fills the room with the sound of happiness.

“The ukulele can do nothing but make you smile,” says Livingston, a Bloomington resident who is also a clinical social worker in the IU Health Center.

She brought the song “She Belongs To Me” by Bob Dylan for the group to try at its Sunday meeting.

The table is covered with thermoses, loose sheet music and binders of music. As the meeting goes on, more players join to bring the group up to 11 people. They are bunched together, sharing sheet music and teaching each other. Some are meeting for the first time.

“They haven’t met yet, but the ukulele brings people together,” Ellen Campbell, a founder of the group, says.

***

The ukulele wasn’t always in vogue. Often written off as a toy instrument, it first gained a hold in the continental United States in the early 1900s. Some sheet music for the Charleston included parts for both the piano and the ukulele. But, as time went on, the instrument dropped out of favor and was less popular in the second half of the century.
In the past decade or so, the ukulele has made a comeback.

Now celebrities such as George Clooney, Zooey Deschanel and the Rock all play the ukulele. 

Campbell said she loves several famous ukulele players, such as Jake Shimabukuro, a Hawaiian musician, and the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, which she stumbled upon when searching for ukulele videos online.

They are serious musicians who sing well and are funny and talented, Campbell said.

Though the instrument is versatile and can be used for a variety of music, such as country, pop and folk, it’s still known as a staple of Hawaiian music and culture.

Robert Green, a visiting retired music history professor who plays mostly Hawaiian ukulele music, said he’s watched the ukulele grow in popularity during the past decade. Although he’s never played with the club, he’s attended ukulele workshops in Indianapolis and other cities — which would have been unheard of 10 years ago, he noted.

The Bloomington Ukulele Club began after the three founders — Campbell, Reina Wong and Linju Chen — took a beginner class together at the People’s University of Bloomington, which is a part of the city’s parks and recreation department, in 2010. On the last day, they didn’t want to stop playing together, so they formed a club and started meeting twice a month.

They’ve had different meeting sites, but the idea is always the same. The group welcomes players of all levels. They share music and teach each other. The musicians play what they can and sing only if they want.

“You jump in when you can,” Campbell said. “It’s laid-back.”

***

A few minutes into the meeting, senior Mimi Yong walks in, and the group already knows what she’ll want to play.

“Now that Mimi’s here, we have to play ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’.” The other players laugh.

It’s her favorite — a song she learned the harmonies to at summer camp in Wisconsin, she says. As one of the younger group members, Yong says, she introduces the club to music by Ingrid Michaelson and Mumford & Sons.

Later in the meeting, Yong suggests “That Thing You Do.”
“It’s my jam,” she says.

And the group is quick to agree to play it again.

Sometimes, members bring songs to try. Other times, copies of the music are posted to the club’s website.

As long as everyone has a copy to read or share, they’ll try a song. At the meeting Sunday, the songs included “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” “Vincent” and “Crocodile Rock.”

Almost all of the club members sing along as they strum. Their fingers bounce on the strings, true to the meaning of the ukulele’s name in Hawaiian: dancing flea.

Campbell says she plays almost daily because the ukulele is infectious. She says it’s an easy instrument to pick up because it only has four strings. And it’s hard to find a song that actually sounds sad on the ukulele — melancholy, maybe. But not sad.

“It’s a sound that’s totally bright,” Campbell says.

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