If, while strolling through Buena Vista Park, you think you hear the faint and mellow sounds of ukuleles on the evening breeze, you are not mistaken.
The Tune Town Ukulele Club meets for a few hours twice a month to learn and practice popular songs including Beatles favourite “Let it Be” and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” The club encourages singing and input from all members regarding song choices and has all the ingredients of a fruitful jam session: a casual atmosphere, ample sheet music, a decent amount of musicians, extra instruments and beer.
These elements alone, however, do not make Tune Town successful — the unique tone of the ukuleles creates an inviting, inclusive atmosphere that most associate with the Hawaiian Islands, that makes the club unique and appealing.
Around the 20th century, ukuleles became a Western staple with their ability to transform ballads like “Tip Toe Thru the Tulips” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into quirky, memorable musical arrangements. They were introduced to some Canadian schools’ curricula in the 1960s making them an instrument familiar to many Canadian students of the 60’s.
This makes ukes the perfect staples for music jams, where participants usually vary in their abilities.
In an unlikely setting, Tune Town coordinator James Pepler realized just how welcoming and relaxing the sound of ukuleles could be.
“I brought some instruments for our team to play at ultimate Frisbee games on the sidelines,” Pepler said. “I thought it was a good way to make players feel less self-conscious.”
Afterwards, a handful of teammates expressed interest in continuing to play ukuleles, and thus, Tune Town Ukulele Club came into existence.
For the time being, Tune Town has no permanent practice location — problematic for the 12 active musicians. Pepler hopes to find a permanent venue for the group to rehearse and grow in. Eventually, Tune Town hopes to incorporate bass guitar and drums into their performances.
“The passion is for the ukes, but when you develop something like this, why not have everything?” Pepler said, emphasising that keeping the group’s music rooted in ukulele is the club’s top priority. “Really, anything is fine, as long as it doesn’t take over.” the sound of the ukuleles.
Pepler also noted that groups like Tune Town are perfect musical outlets for those who want to learn new tricks and techniques but who can’t afford formal lessons.
Ukuleles are a reasonably priced option for broke students, usually costing less than $30. For those who are willing to spend a little extra, the electric variety sound brilliant but require an amplifier.
The important thing to keep in mind when purchasing a ukulele is that acoustic instruments are a lot more conducive to spontaneous, outdoor jam sessions — really, the best kind of jam.
Photo & Video: Bryn Becker/The Sheaf