community music

All posts tagged community music

I haven’t been writing on the blog much – mostly due to time constraints – but I wanted to touch on the issue of ukulele as a tool for goodness and social connection. The more deeply I dive into the ukulele sphere, the more I see how truly magical it really is.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for music of all kinds in our lives. Whatever instrument you choose, it can bring a whole host of positive benefits to you and those around you. But I’d like to reflect a bit on some of what I’m seeing with the ukulele.

This is an instrument that has had a wild ride along its history line. From something deeply cultural in its Hawaiian roots (that continues today), to its kooky pop culture adventures over the decades, to becoming so much more in present day.  This little four-stringed wonder has been a chameleon, an entertainer, a social connector, a tool for expression, an outlet for creativity, a very wide open door to musical literacy (for kids and grown-ups), and the list goes on. Using Amanda Palmer’s words, it is a wand of thunder. And at the same time, it is a humble friend.

I really believe this instrument can bring forth positive benefits that I have not seen from other instruments at this scale and reach. Just to touch on a few examples of where I’ve personally seen it go:

  • Its accessibility has given people the opportunity to learn to make music in adulthood, many who perhaps never thought they would ever be able to create music. A huge mind and heart opener that builds self-esteem and happiness.
  • It has been a social connector for people who may not have come together in any other venue. It has enabled them to have a communication tool – the universal language of music – that they can use to relate to others.
  • It can go anywhere. Its portability makes it perfect in so many scenarios. Its unassuming and inoffensive nature lets it join (sneak?) in with all kinds of other instruments. It can make friends with most anyone.
  • It has been a connector for families. I’ve had parents and kids register for classes together and enjoy the beauty of sharing music, opening dialogue, strengthening family bonds. They’ve often told me they continue making music together as a family at home.
  • It’s a healer. I’ve seen this instrument go into hospitals, care centres, and homes of people who are dealing with health challenges. It can help lower heart rates and anxiety, alleviate pain and discomfort, and improve brain activity.
  • It is an outlet for expression. I’ve had students of all ages explore the craft of writing with their instrument, helping sort through their life challenges and successes, through the art of songwriting.
  • It’s an opportunity to explore music one would never have known or thought about. We can play a classical piece and talk about the format of the canon in early western music. We can thrash out a Ramones song and feel the rush of letting loose on three punk chords. We can learn a swinging ditty from the 1930s and challenge ourselves with the complexity and beauty of jazz chords.
  • It builds and invites communities. Its humble and approachable nature, mixed with the happy faces of those who play it, is unique in its ability to lure people to learn. Many people attend ukulele performances and leave thinking “I want to learn to play that!” and go out and buy one. I don’t know many other instruments that have this kind of effect. People might see a concert and be moved and entertained, but they rarely go out and buy the instrument they’ve just seen performing. This happens regularly with ukulele.
  • It’s a tool for good mental health. Art and music offer people the chance to escape and find distraction from their busy lives. Ukuleles are a really accessible way to bring this stress-relieving activity into many homes. I’ve had endless people tell me that they look forward to ukulele class/jams as an opportunity to let their stress go and turn their moods around.

I could go on but I will leave it there for now. I would love to hear what you have discovered through this wonderful little instrument. How has it affected your life in big and small ways?



There are moments in our days that are inextricably linked to music. The soundtrack of our lives, if you will. Music can bring back memories, trigger emotions, give us strength, motivate us, calm us, and help us through. music gives soul quote

Recently, the Royal City Ukulele Ensemble — an adult ukulele group that I run — had a powerful experience through music. For the last two years, our weekly classes have taken place in a wonderful retirement and assisted care facility. Residents are welcome to listen to us work through our technique and material each week and every few months we put on a more formal performance for those residents.

We have come to find happiness not only in our own music-making each week but in watching the effects of our music on those residents who might sit for a while and listen, who come bopping down the hall to our more upbeat tunes, or who come religiously and listen to our entire 2 hour class each week.

It is one of those residents who allowed us the opportunity to be a part of something extra special this summer. I will leave you with the link to an article that was written about this story in the retirement community’s newsletter, the Village Voice. May your days be filled with the magic and power of music.



Although it’s something I’ve known intrinsically for as long as I can remember, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve realized how much music brings people together. Music has the beautiful ability to function as an individual activity or one of social connection.

Last evening was one of those moments when I was taken with the warm and joyful experience of the music-making-in-a-group kind. This one centred around ukuleles, of course, and was part of a celebration of music education (Music Monday), an area that I’m quite passionate about.13164260_10209642044954157_4936648171326008186_n

It began with the screening of a documentary called The Mighty Uke. This quirky little film touches on the history (including the pop culture history) of our tiny hero: the ‘ukulele. I scanned the room regularly to watch the reactions of those in attendance, both young and old(er). There were smiles, definitely laughs, some nods of recognition and even a few teary moments. All were engaged in the wild and wooly stories of the “jumping flea.”

The film set the stage for what came next: making music. Some folks were members of the Royal City Ukulele Ensemble and were very comfortable playing together. Some were relative newbies but were venturing out to test their musical abilities in a safe environment. Some were folks who perhaps had never touched a ukulele before (goodness!) and experienced their first ukulele jam session.

We had six songs to play — songs that registrants had received in the previous weeks and we had yet to try altogether as “The Mighty Uke Jam Ensemble”. I gave them a quick pep talk and the mandatory “Z Chord is your secret weapon” advice and, as we began to play and sing, the magic really began to happen.

There were smiles. Lots of smiles. There was laughter and at the end of each song, acknowledgement of the success of having made the song sound like a song! A group of 30+ participants, at least half of whom did not know each other before that evening, came together and created music. Just like that. And it was perfectly imperfect.

As we finished, there was a great energy in the room. The joy of having made music together, regardless of age or experience level. We came together in some cases as strangers but we left the evening feeling as though we had all connected in those moments to create something as a group. It reminded me of many things, including the fact that ukuleles should be mandatory at all business meetings as an ice-breaker, creativity booster and stress-reliever… (don’t get me started)

But mostly, it reminded me that although I talk about ukuleles in my every day life and get some snickers and eyerolls from those who haven’t yet experienced them firsthand (i.e. the ‘ukulele dark side), I know in my heart the power of this friendly little instrument:


The quiet introvert

The social connector

The charming hipster

The peace maker

The happiness generator

The little instrument that could. And does.