DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE STAFF
LLANO — The thing about hanging around a bunch of ukulele-playing folks is you can’t help but smile. The upbeat attitude of the musicians combined with the fun, light-hearted tunes lift the spirits of everyone in the room.
“It’s just a fun instrument,” said Lisa Miller, a recent convert to the little instrument and the organizer of the Highland Lakes Ukulele Club. The group held its inaugural meeting July 24 at Fuel Coffee House. The uke fans plan on meeting the fourth Thursday of each month from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the coffee house, 106 E. Main St.
Across from Miller, Diana Adams showed newbie Cecily Kelln a few tips and tricks. Adams picked up the instrument in January but already had a few stringed instruments under her belt including the mandolin and the guitar. Kelln, however, only recently pulled the ukulele out of the closet, where it sat for about a year.
Adams said the ukulele is a perfect companion on the road or just about anywhere else.
“The fun thing about the ukulele is you can take it anywhere and just sit and play it,” she said. “You can sit in your car and play it.”
Adams laughed as she told the others that one of her biggest challenges is not playing the instrument.
“I tell myself I have to work, but I really want to just play,” she said. And that’s one of the draws of the little instrument: Once you start, it just begs to be played. Adams’ ukulele isn’t far from her at any time of the day.
Kathleen Riordan decided to give the instrument a go after she heard it was a bit easier than other stringed instruments. She followed along as the group strummed a few chords during a song. The music popped from the five instruments, bouncing around the coffee shop a bit and getting everybody, including a group of three people sitting nearby, smiling.
Like the banjo, the ukulele favors upbeat tunes over sad songs.
The ukulele traces its beginnings to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1870s, when a Portuguese instrument maker immigrated to the islands. He and two other friends created the first ukuleles, but the Hawaiian people fell in love with the little instrument and soon it became associated with the islands and its people. Even Hawaiian royalty played the ukulele.
Recently, the ukulele began winning new fans thanks to musicians such as the late Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo Ole, whose “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” captured the hearts of millions. And now, Jake Shimabukuro has shown people the power of the ukulele.
While Llano is several thousand miles from Hawaii, the ukulele’s power reverberated through Fuel for a few hours during the Highland Lakes Ukulele Club’s first meeting. The majority of the five attending are fairly new to the instrument. Miller joked that one of the reasons she and Don Crowder decided to organize a ukulele group was for her own motivation.
“But then, when I realized the meeting was only a few weeks away, I had to really start practicing,” she said.
“Yeah, she was worried she was going to be the worse player,” Crowder added with a grin.
Ability doesn’t matter to the group. The few with more experience shared tips and ideas. Then they picked songs, some you wouldn’t associate with the ukulele, and strummed away.
“It’s much funner to play the ukulele with other people,” Miller said. “You really don’t want to sit at home by yourself and play it if you can.”
Adams, however, loves pulling out her ukulele whenever and wherever she can — whether anybody is around or not.
“I’ll play it for an hour in the evening before I go to bed. I just cannot not play it.”
As they picked and strummed, they sang along with the tune. Even a few who were hesitant to sing eventually joined in. Which highlighted one of the ukulele’s attributes: It’s so darn fun to play, you can’t help but sing and smile.
Email Miller at email@example.com for more information on the club.