- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

BERRYVILLE, Va. (AP) - Hawaiian singer and musician Don Ho would be proud.

On a recent Monday evening, 14 people sat around a table at Opus Oaks, an Art Place on First Street, strumming or plucking the strings of that symbol of the Aloha State, the ukulele.

“This instrument makes you happy,” said Janet Tolin, who invited anyone interested in playing the instrument to meet to form Berryville’s first ukulele club.

The ukulele is a member of the guitar family.

Portuguese immigrants brought their version of the guitar to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 19th century, where the islanders adapted it to their needs.

The ukulele is now as much a part of Hawaiian culture as the hula or the flowered lei. The late Don Ho strummed one at his popular Waikiki nightclub show.

Tolin, a Berryville resident, became interested in the instrument several years ago because her 6-year-old daughter wanted to learn to play. On a vacation trip to California, the young girl had seen her aunt play the ukulele and asked her mother for one.

“It’s a very easy instrument to learn,” said Tolin, adding that her daughter was playing pretty well in just a few weeks.

Tolin had “fiddled with” the guitar and piano, but said “I had no solid musical background.”

She bought her daughter the cheapest ukulele she could find and showed her “a couple of chords,” and the child was on her way.

And Tolin was intrigued.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites (on the Internet) to teach you to play,” she said.

When she and her husband Barry moved to Berryville, she took her ukulele to D.G. Cooley Elementary School to play for the students.

The school’s music teacher was attracted by the ease that students picked up instrument and got a grant to purchase some ukuleles for them.

Even Tolin’s husband succumbed to the happy sounds his daughter was making with the instrument.

“She’s the reason I started,” Barry Tolin said, adding that the learning curve was “effortless.”

Ukuleles come in a wide range of tones, from soprano and tenor to baritone. And they range in size from minis to hefties. There are even electric ukuleles.

Janet Tolin has built her own ukulele, using scrap material. Her interest in the instrument has also led her to writing songs, starting with parodies of popular tunes targeted to the youngsters she entertains in Clarke County schools.

What kid could resist a song about a raccoon named Scrooge, set to the tune of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown?”

At the first meeting of the new ukulele club earlier this month, everyone got to strumming right away.

As leader, Tolin passed out music for three songs, showed what fingers to place on which strings to produce the needed chord and the “basic” strum, - down, down, up, up, down, up - to be used on the “sweet spot” where the ukulele’s neck meets the body.

Those who were experienced on the ukulele helped those who were just beginning, and a rock ‘n’ roll song, a western ditty and a popular Hawaiian tune kept everyone strumming away.

Each song was repeated at least three times, for lots of practice, and everyone sang along.

Terrie Sheaffer, of Berryville, was one of the newbies.

“I’m a singer,” she said, adding that she works with a local band. She wants to learn the ukulele so she can accompany herself, which is easier than rounding up another musician.

Don Shaw picked up the ukulele three years ago, after the professional musician said he “blew out” his lip playing the trumpet.

He considered learning the banjo, but said, “That’s a very complicated instrument. At my age, I don’t want complicated.”

The ukulele, on the other hand, was perfect, and, he added, affordable. For less than $100, he found a concert-sized instrument and tuner.

Shaw actually leads a ukulele club at a senior center in Purcellville in neighboring Loudoun County.

Larry and Linda Burke, who have been playing the instrument for two years, drove from Poolesville, Maryland, to jam at the Berryville ukulele club’s first meeting.

With Chantilly resident David Bartell, they led the group through the western song “My Rifle, My Pony and Me,” which was featured in the John Wayne movie “Rio Bravo.”

Even after three repetitions, the players demanded to “play it again.”

The Berryville Ukulele Club meets the first and third Mondays of the month at 6 p.m. at Opus Oaks, 109 First St, Berryville. There is no fee to attend. A few ukuleles are available for people to try.

___

Information from: The Winchester Star, https://www.winchesterstar.com


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