It’s not just for Hawaii anymore.
The ukulele is enjoying popularity, especially in Altoona – home to the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective.
Originally formed in 2010, the group has steadily grown and now features jams and sing-a-longs on the second and fourth Sundays of every month. The fourth-Sunday jams are at 2:00 p.m. at the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library. Organizers are searching for a permanent location for the second-Sunday jams.
“The common thread that I can see is that we’re all looking for a community,” said Mike Holzer, a self-proclaimed ukulele maven. “The people who come to our jams – we’ve all kind of adopted each other as this extended musical family.”
The Kollective attracts people from diverse backgrounds, added jammer Melanie Ramsey.
“There are college teachers and librarians, musicians and retirees, middle schoolers and high schoolers, pastors, yoga instructors, many interests and many connections to other parts of the community,” she offered.
About 10-20 players are at each jam session, Holzer estimated, plus those who come just to listen to the tunes.
“Some come regularly, some less regularly,” he noted, adding that spectators are always invited to pick up any of the spare ukuleles on hand and join the jammers in making beautiful music.
Players of the four-stringed instrument say even those who have never touched a ukulele should not feel intimidated.
Those tempted to give it a try can visit their local library and check one out for free, suggested Ramsey. At the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, where Ramsey is the Director of Children and Youth Services, an aspiring player can sign up for a 20 minute introduction to the ukulele.
“You can learn a lot through online videos, but most people like to have a one-on-one introduction,” she surmised. “It’s a lot easier to see what to do. Also, there are many ways to play the ukulele. Some people strum with their fingers and some use a pick. And there are different sizes of ukuleles. You should definitely try some out and find out what you like. They are all fun!”
For anyone tempted to join the fun, the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective is rolling out the welcome mat.
A beginner workshop (Ukulele Crash Course: No Helmet Required) is scheduled for January 28 at 1:00 p.m. at the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library. It is open to anyone of any age and any skill level. The cost is $5. The usual fourth-Sunday jam follows. Other beginner classes will be scheduled throughout the year.
In addition to playing the ukulele, Ramsey is a violist with the Altoona Symphony Orchestra.
Holzer, too, has a musical background — including playing the trumpet.
“On kind of a whim I bought a ukulele online, and I really liked it,” he stated. “I liked accompanying myself as I sing. The ukulele is very much kind of a happy-go-lucky kind of instrument.”
Added Ramsey: “You pick it up and strum on it and immediately get happy sounds.”
The Allegheny Ukulele Kollective garnered some special attention a few summers ago when the group performed during the ASO’s annual outdoor concert at Canal Basin Park in Hollidaysburg.
Maestra Teresa Cheung heard about the group and invited members to join the orchestra.
“The Maestra came to one of our jams, and we practiced the music, and we got together that summer day and had a great time,” recalled Holzer. “It was probably one of the biggest audiences we ever performed in front of.”
In the spirit of outreach, the group also hosts a major event annually – the Allegheny Ukulele Soiree. This year’s event is scheduled for April 20-22 at Laurel Lodge in Altoona. Professional ukulele players/teachers from around the country will be on hand for workshops and, of course, performances.
Learn more about Allegheny Ukulele Kollective events by checking out its website, and, by all means, consider strumming with the jammers.
“The ukulele is immediately enjoyable to play,” stressed Ramsey. “This is true even before you know anything about how to play it.”
Reminded Holzer: “You don’t have to be a passive consumer of music. You can make your own music.”
By Tony DeGol