For the second time, Windham Adult Education has added learning to play the ukulele to the course catalog. The first time there were 18 participants and this winter the class is up to 20. Instructor Dana Reed was asked to see if adult ed. would be open to hosting a class, if Reed was available to teach it. Reed the former minister at the North Windham United Church of Christ and retired military chaplain, has a degree in music and developed a passion for the ukulele while in Hawaii on assignment in 2006. He agreed to teach a class.
“Windham Raymond Adult Education has always been at the forefront of unique and innovative programming,” said director Tom Nash. “We seek input from the community on potential courses, and topics of interest as well as possible teachers who wish to share their expertise and passion with others.”
A ukulele is a small guitar shaped instrument that is related to the lute with four strings that a musician strums or plucks. Tiny Tim was one of the musicians who brought the uke into popular culture. Now people are learning to play the uke as a way to relieve stress, learn to play an instrument and to socialize with a group of likeminded individuals. Now artists plan to “take it out of a toy into an instrument. It can be so therapeutic,” said Reed.
“We’re all musicians here,” said Reed. “People cover for one another.” In this group, it doesn’t matter if they are the best player or singer, as long as they try. “Eighty percent of the world wants to have fun with music, not construct chord scales,” Reed said.
“I learned as a little kid when we had them in the family,” said Olivia Casey. “It’s so accessible, so easy to learn and light as a feather,” she added.
Homer McLemore and his wife, Ellen, decided to get off their couch and learn some new skills at night. Ellen was the one who suggested that Reed teach a uke class. The couple began taking adult ed. classes including ukulele in the fall. McLemore came back for more uke, while his wife moved on to watercolor painting. Neither had played before.
Other members of the class are music teachers, business professionals and one woman who played in Hawaii when she was young and is now relearning the skill.
Abbie Barber did some singing along with YouTube and played along with the chorus to practice before class. “It’s the joy that drives the insanity,” Barber joked. “The ukulele is naturally disarming. You say it and people laugh,” said McLemore.
“You learn when you play with someone,” Reed said. His goal is to teach the students the basics, but ultimately to get them to have fun whenever they want to play. Dressed in shorts and sandals and a bright Hawaiian shirt, Reed strums his ukulele. Outside it was 15 degrees, but inside the group was playing “Surfing USA”.
“The pure joy of sitting down and playing by yourself or with friends is what it’s all about,” Reed told the group.
“I believe its popularity can be attributed to the fact that it is a relatively inexpensive way for someone to pursue their desire to play a musical instrument. It can be explored so in a fun and safe “shared” experience. Beyond learning a new skill, the social aspect of the class – and many of our adult education classes – draws participants to adult education,” said Nash.
It was week three of the class and the students were already playing full songs including “This Land is Your Land,” and “You Are My Sunshine”. Eighty percent of western music is based on the one, four and five chords, Reed said. With those you can play thousands of songs, he added.
With the uke, the way to play it is very subjective. “However you feel the song,” said Reed. “That’s the joy of uke and music.”
Reed was excited about the progress his students were making. “Look at yourselves,” he told them. “You can do anything on this.”
“It’s like drinking water from a fire hose,” said student John Carter with a chuckle. The students admitted to practicing a lot between classes to contribute to the class.
Starting soon Reed will help launch a ukulele club that will meet downstairs at Buck’s Naked BBQ once a month. They are looking for more players to express interest to come, socialize and play together. There is hope that the club will become a social thing and go to nursing homes and other venues to play. For more about the uke club, call Dana at 653-6593 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.