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South Shore Ukulele Festival " Generations playing together

The Patriot Ledger logo The Patriot Ledger 2/26/2020 By sscmusicblog, The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

By Juli FinnI just love the ukulele. Anyone can play it. The ukulele is so small, and the moment you pick it up, you're able to make a sweet sound. Its soft, nylon strings are gentler on your fingertips than any guitar or mandolin, so they don't create finger pain like guitars often do. Because of the small size, notes on a ukulele are reachable without uncomfortable stretching, reducing wrist tension. Once you pick it up it doesn't take long for the ukulele to take hold of your heart.

Although I consider myself a guitarist, I have lots of experience playing and teaching the ukulele. I was hired to play guitar in a musical six years ago, and after I accepted the position they asked if I could play ukulele. I said sure, not realizing how much I would love it. I began teaching ukulele two and a half years ago at South Shore Conservatory, and, like my students say, 'It's the best 60 minutes of the week!'

In addition to teaching private lessons at South Shore Conservatory (SSC) in Hingham, I also teach group ukulele classes at the Hingham and Norwell Senior Centers through SSC. The Hingham group, The Grand Ukes, have played in Hingham's Fourth of July parade. I have taught students from ages 5-90. It seems every time a new session starts, we pick up two to three new players. With new students, I always recommend starting with songs that have only two or three chords, such as Down in the Valley, Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus, Horse with No Name by America, Happy by Pharrell Williams, or Love Me Do by the Beatles. Surprisingly, they are easy to find online.

Last year, one of my students, Suzanne Del Rossi, returned from a trip to California, excited about a Ukulele Strum-Along with YouTube sensation Cynthia Lin that she had attended. We were so inspired by the idea of bringing a group of strangers together to play ukulele that we came up with the concept of a South Shore Ukulele Festival. This came to fruition last April at Laura's Center for the Arts in Hanover.

In putting together this intergenerational event, my biggest concern was song selection. I wanted to make sure we had a good variety of songs: some challenging ones for advanced players, but many easier ones for those with little experience. The festival far exceeded my expectations. We were hoping for 20 attendees, and we tripled that amount. I brought along my husband, Jon to play bass, and my friend Larry to play drums. The rhythm section made the songs sound fuller and helped players stay in sync.

One woman brought her four-year-old little boy who had just picked up a ukulele the week before, and his five-year-old sister. Many of my ukulele friends from the senior centers came. We had a newly married couple, an 18-year-old playing with us. It seemed like every age group was represented. Chords and lyrics were projected on stage so people in the audience could play and sing along. We played familiar songs such as Runaround Sue, You Are My Sunshine, Shake It Up Baby, and Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

The sound of so many ukuleles playing together was amazing, but the best part was looking out and seeing everyone strumming along with smiles on their faces. That's my prime motivation, to get people playing music together. That's where the magic happens. Friendships blossom, communities are formed, and depression and anxiety fade away. It's a real win when I see that. We had such an outpouring of love and support after the event. Most everyone asked me, 'when is the next one?'

Join South Shore Conservatory on Sunday, March 22, from 1-3 pm at Laura's Center for the Arts, 97 Mill Street in Hanover, for the 2nd annual South Shore Ukulele Festival. Cost is $10/person or $25/family. Learn more at https://sscmusic.org/uke/.

Juli Finn has been teaching ukulele and guitar with South Shore Conservatory since 2017.

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