Ukulele Group Has Strumming,
Plinking Good Time
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
Copyright Clare County Cleaver
HARRISON – Melonie Kingsbury, director of the First United Methodist Church Preschool in Clare, has a full plate: a full-time job, family, etc. She also has been involved with music since she played flute in high school, and despite being full-time busy, she has managed to find time to organize a group of like-minded musicians and music appreciators.
That group is S.U.N., which stands for Some Ukulele Nuts. Fun, right? Also fun is the notion that anyone who spends some time listening to the group rehearse and interact will find it no big leap to look at the “Nuts” portion of that name and realize it could easily be an acronym for “Never Underestimate The Strumming.”
Kingsbury said she has always loved playing music, and that includes the ukulele. But the music created by S.U.N. isn’t your mom’s Don Ho playing “Tiny Bubbles.” It’s far more encompassing.
“I loved Hawaiian music,” she said. “That’s what got me started. And everybody here likes folk music, so we’re eclectic. Whatever is easy.”
When tackling anything new, learning comes easier in a relaxed setting, and that is how the ukulele group functions.
“We kind of just get together, learn from each other, play, just have gun,” Kingsbury said. “I pick out some songs. We’re getting ready for the WASSUP. Johnny Hunt is from a ukulele group in Midland and Saginaw. He comes up, and we go down to different places and play.”
Kingsbury said she formed her group about five years ago, and that it now includes some 50-60 members. Kingsbury said about a dozen is a typical turnout. The fact that some of those members are from as far away as Lansing is a result of her having traveled down to Lansing to play with LAUGH, a group started by Bill Hassenger.
“Lansing Area Ukulele Group, the H is just to make it LAUGH,” she said, laughing. “He’s more of a professional, and has his own group the Ukulele Kings. I went down there and learned from them, because when you want to play it’s easier to learn in a group setting.”
So, rather than spending her time on the road to and from Lansing, Kingsbury decided to start a group locally.
“I’ m finding all these people in this area who want to play,” she said. “We’re inviting anyone who wants to come play,” she said. “If you don’t want to play and you want to sing, just come sing.”
Johnny Hunt, whose group is SUGAR [Saginaw Ukulele Gurus and Rookies], informed that the WASSUP4 event in Midland would be held March 9 and 10, and would include a photographer with a tropical beach backdrop for photos, a sketch artist, a Friday concert, and another concert Saturday in which the S.U.N. group would participate.
Until recently the monthly get-togethers were held at Clare Municipal Airport. Now the ukulele action has moved to the lower level of Clare’s Pere Marquette District Library, with its easy access, endless elbow room and dynamite acoustics.
Since the group welcomes anyone who wants to play or learn to play the ukulele, it makes available some instruments for people to “give it a try.” That’s exactly what two first-time attendees did Jan. 27.
Of course, there isn’t a lot of call for solo ukulele music, so the group focuses on melodies with lyrics. Using a projector and screen as one huge piece of community sheet music, the Jan. 27 meeting started out with a series of Beatles songs, including: “Eight Days a Week,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Paperback Writer,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Good Day Sunshine” and “Octopus’ Garden.”
Then the focus shifted to Irish tunes in preparation for the March WASSAP4 performance and as a way to promote their home of Clare and its “Wearin’ O’ the Green.” Those classics included: “Drunken Sailor,” “Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone),” “That’s An Irish Lullabye,” “Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” “My Wild Irish Rose” [by Chauncey Olcott 1899] and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
Although also employed full-time, Melonie’s husband, Steve Kingsbury, has somewhat recently joined the ukulele madness – with a flourish!
“Working full-time, we’re still figuring out how to have the time to play and practice it’s hard to make time for concentrated focus on ukes,” Steve said. “The music’s only been for the last four years. That’s the cool thing about this, you can learn really quickly -- I’m still learning.”
One particularly charming thing he noted was the pair of 100th anniversary edition Kamaka ukuleles he and Melonie had purchased for their 40th wedding anniversary. His is a tenor and hers is a concert size instrument.
“They’re sequentially numbered,” he said. “Hers was made at the same time mine was, and they were just released last year. These are way more valuable than what I deserve, but they were for our 40th anniversary, so….”
After 41 years of marriage, they’re still playing “Togetherness” in the “Key of L.”
Some Ukulele Nuts meets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the fourth Saturday of each month at Pere Marquette District Library in Clare. The group is as much a social activity as an instructional one, and prospective players/singers shouldn’t find that three-hour time block daunting. The first two hours are spent with ukuleles in hand, but that last hour? That’s reserved for socializing over a well-earned lunch at the eatery of the day.