BY NORM CRAMPTON
It’s Thursday afternoon, and members of the Ukulele Club at Bell Trace Senior Living Community are gathering in a basement hall for their regular — well, it’s not quite a practice, as practice suggests preparation for a performance. While club members do perform on occasion, the Ukulele Club members mainly enjoy one another’s company and the joy of making music.
“Almost all the songs we play have three chords: C, F, and G7,” says Julie Hill, the sometime leader of the band and full-time life enrichment director at Bell Trace’s Health and Living Center. “G7 is hard, it’s three fingers, F is two fingers, C is one finger.”
“I can do a C, but I can’t do an F,” admits Bernice Herman. “My hand doesn’t let me! So I thought I’d do this,” she laughs, brandishing a kazoo. A kazoo choir also has come together recently, Hill notes.
Gingie Haley, who first played a ukulele as a teenager in South Bend, Ind., plucks out “My Dog Has Fleas,” which is conveniently the tuning pattern for the four-string instrument.
“She plays very nicely,” says Norma Schlesinger, an original member of the Ukulele Club.
“Let’s say I’m relearning,” says Haley.
Schlesinger, a novice player, explains how the club formed. About a year ago, the Bloomington Ukulele Club borrowed practice space one day at Bell Trace, “and the sound was just wonderful. We all wandered down to listen. And Julie [Hill] said, ‘I’m going to learn to play. Who wants to play?’”
About a dozen residents regularly show up at the Thursday sessions. They entertained at the retirement center’s 15th anniversary party and plan to march in the community’s Mardi Gras parade, along with the kazoo choir.
“Learning an instrument is like learning a new language; it’s really good food for your brain,” Hill says. “That’s why I was invested in getting this going here because people are open to learning something new.”
Sharing an interest and experience takes people into new friendships. “It moves beyond sitting around the dining room table talking about their health or the weather,” adds Hill, who manages a wide-ranging arts program.
“I’m tuned, are you tuned?” Hill asks the ukulele group. “Let’s try a C and a G7 and a C7 and an F.” From there, the group launches into a favorite: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”