BY OLIVIA DORFMAN
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a dozen Bloomingtonians, ranging in age from 12 to 88, showed up at the Monroe County Public Library, ukuleles in hand. Some brought songs to share and most had copies of The Daily Ukulele songbook. Soon they were strumming along and singing songs like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie,” and The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
The diverse members of the Bloomington Ukulele Club meet twice a month at the library and everyone is welcome, regardless of age or experience. All that’s required is enthusiasm for the ukulele.
“It’s easy to learn, and fun people play it,” says Tom Shafer, 70. “It’s complex, but it’s also simple.” Club members are quick to cite the many celebrities who are or have been players, including Arthur Godfrey, George Harrison, Eddie Vedder, Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, members of The Who, and President Barack Obama.
Club co-founder Ellen Campbell, 54, says beginners are welcome. “Though it helps if at least they have some chords,” she adds. “We don’t teach them how to play.” Campbell began playing 10 years ago when her son gave her a ukulele as a birthday present. At a beginner’s class organized by Bloomington Parks and Recreation, she met the club’s other co-founders, Linju Lin and Reina Wong. The club launched in 2010. Today it has about 55 members.
“It’s fun,” Campbell says. “It’s companionship. We don’t judge each other; we play what we can. A couple of years ago we did a flash mob at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. It was at a fundraiser for Cardinal Stage Company. Otherwise, we’re not really a performance entity.”
Campbell recalls a time when the group was unable to use the library meeting space and temporarily held meetings at Bell Trace senior living facility. “We practiced there for about three months and they liked it,” she says. “They started a uke club that’s still going.”
The library club generally meets the first and third Sundays of the month. Meetings are open; there are no dues. For more information, visit magbloom.com/ukeleleclub.