Chamberlin School fifth grade Ukulele Club. 

Ukulele Joy

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Thursday November 30, 2017

Thanks to Chamberlin School teacher Kathy Murphy, fifth graders have been jamming together on ukuleles since September as part of a newly formed Ukulele Club. Murphy, who has taught at Chamberlin for over 20 years, says she loves “spreading ukulele joy to her students,” adding, “There is research that shows the positive effects playing a musical instrument can have for children, but for these kids, this is just plain fun!”

Murphy’s inspiration for the club came from her own love of the instrument. Transferring her desire to learn how to play the guitar to the more easily learned ukulele, she took a beginner’s class from Access CVU last fall. A year later, as the school year commenced, she brought her ukulele to school and played for her students. “We were learning about how our brains work and what we can do to help our brains do their best work, help us make good decisions, etc. Playing music is one thing that helps with self-regulation, also it just makes me happy to play the uke and it seemed to make the kids happy to sing along.” Murphy asked her students if they would like to learn, “A bunch of kids said yes. I made up some permission forms and got an overwhelming response. Over 20 children, out of 51 fifth graders, said they wanted to learn. I went out that weekend and bought four ukuleles, brought in my two, borrowed some from friends, and Ukulele Club was born.”

The 10 and 11-year-olds in Murphy’s class are part of an international wave of ukulele popularity. A member of the lute family of instruments, ukuleles originated in the 19th century and have come a long way from the days of Tiny Tim and his signature song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” With online video tutorials and growing ukulele communities around the world, the instrument has become more widely embraced than ever. Often referred to as “everyman’s instrument,” the uke is seen as an approachable, affordable, and endearing way to make music.

Murphy’s Ukulele Club at Chamberlin is open to all fifth graders. She says, “They have to get permission from their parents. So, they do choose it. That is part of the beauty of it, I think, for many of the kids. Since kids choose to be there, we only have people who want to be there. So far, we have had over half of our students participate at one time or another.”

The club meets for five week sessions twice a week, either meeting after school or at recess. Murphy describes one “ultra-uker” named Lily who meets both days, and adds, “Many [students] volunteer to come in at recess to tune the ukes or to teach a new student how to play some basic chords so they are not overwhelmed by joining such an ‘advanced’ group!”

Students are enthusiastic about the experience. Triya said, “It seemed hard at first, but it is actually very easy.” Audrey adds, “I like that I get to teach other kids and that I’m learning new stuff.” Griffin sees the benefit to playing, “I like ukulele because it calms me down.” And Izzy comments on the pure love of making music, “I love learning and jammin’ with ukes!”

In addition to the six ukuleles Murphy brought in, the club often borrows instruments when they have a big group and many students have purchased their own. The Chamberlin PTO pitched in as well, adding five more ukuleles. Murphy says, “We have nine ukes that we loan out so children can practice at home. They are super-responsible with the instruments.”

The young musicians have learned basic chords and multiple classics like “Stand by Me.” They have performed impromptu for some family members and school staff and have been invited to perform for Orchard School’s kindergarten. Murphy comments, “I also hope to have at least a few children go to an upcoming PTO meeting to play to thank our wonderful PTO for helping us buy some ukuleles,” adding, “Look for us soon at a venue near you!”

“One student this year asked me if it was hard to play the ukulele. I told him it was hard to get really good, but that it doesn’t take long to be ‘very okay’ on the uke,” says Murphy. Self-described as “a very okay ukulele player,” this teacher even has a t-shirt that reads, “The World’s Okayest Ukulele Player.” She notes that her students are “very okay” at playing too, along with some who are “really dedicated, practice daily, have natural talent, and are already beyond the okay stage.” She buoyantly notes, “Right now, I am just hoping I have the skill to keep up with them by the end of the year!”


SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley. The Other Paper