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Ukulele Players: An Anthropological Study

Ukulele Players: An Anthropological Study
L.J. Williamson

Size matters, and although a ukulele is basically just a downsized guitar, playing "lead ukulele" just doesn't have the same authoritative ring. And that can be a good thing. Ukulele players rarely have the self-seriousness of guitarists, and if you get a bunch of them in a room together, you'll never need to say, "Check your ego at the door." That's because they checked their egos the second they picked up a uke.

This weekend at Disney Hall, the first of three "Ukulele-Alongs" brought together scores of tuned-up uke players, toting music stands and wearing Hawaiian shirts, as part of the Music Center's "Active Arts" program, designed to engage everyday folks in the performing arts. The program, which has been going since 2004, also includes drumming, singing, dance and storytelling events.

The ukulele may be experiencing a trendy moment, but it's not just the province of hipsters and Hawaiians. Ukes may be user-friendly, but learning to play a musical instrument and play it well is a long-term commitment that defies trend-hopping. The broad cross-section of folks in attendance at Saturday's series of three instructor-led workshops defied easy categorization, but here's a sampling.

Davis Neves
Davis Neves
L.J. Williamson

What's your name?

Davis Neves.

How long have you been playing ukulele?

For four years.

Do you play any other instruments?

I play others like shakers and tambourine, but this is my first real instrument.

What's your favorite song to play?

I like to play '80s covers, like Cyndi Lauper.

Raymond Pierce
Raymond Pierce
L.J. Williamson

What's your name?

I'm Raymond Pierce.

How long have you been playing ukulele?

Since I was a kid. But I've been playing seriously for the last five years.

How did you find out about today's event?

I'm a member of the Jumping Flea Circus Ukulele Club. I found out about it through them.

What's your favorite song to play?

That's hard. I know over 500 songs.

Does one jump to mind?

I really like "City of New Orleans."

Caroline Yeager
Caroline Yeager
L.J. Williamson

What's your name?

Caroline Yeager.

How long have you been playing ukulele?

Two and a half years.

What inspired you to first pick it up?

I love the sound. I played guitar as a child, so picking this up was like riding a bike. I'm in Westside Ukulele Ensemble -- so many happy, friendly people play the ukulele!

What's your favorite song to play?

Right now I really like to play "Tennessee Waltz."

Brian Rodriguez
Brian Rodriguez
L.J. Williamson

What's your name?

Brian Rodriguez.

How long have you been playing ukulele?

Two months.

And you're already in the intermediate class?

I also play classical guitar. This is a lot easier.

What inspired you to first pick it up?

Well, my grandpa gave me a ukulele as a present.

What's your favorite song to play?

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Viette Johnson
Viette Johnson
L.J. Williamson

What's your name?

Viette Johnson.

How long have you been playing ukulele?

One and a half years.

What inspired you to first pick it up?

I took a class on left brain/right brain, and they were giving out recorders in class. Then I moved up to ukulele. I'm going to be 78, and they said that playing a musical instrument gets the brain working. So I'm sticking with it!

What's your favorite song to play?

Hawaiian songs, like "Blue Hawaii." I can play them and sound good.

The ceiling of the Founders Room, Disney Hall
The ceiling of the Founders Room, Disney Hall
L.J. Williamson

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