WEEKEND: Scores of strummers expected at ukulele flash mob Saturday

PORT TOWNSEND —- Haller Fountain will be the scene of a ukulele flash mob on Saturday.

The time, as is appropriate for flash mobs, will be a surprise.

The flash mob is being orchestrated by George Yount, Bruce Cowan and Germaine Arthur, who started a ukulele club in October.

The first meeting drew more than 65 people to Quimper Grange, so many that the November meeting was moved to a bigger venue at Grace Lutheran Church.

“We were instantly overwhelmed,” Yount said.

“We had no idea so many people would show up.”

Ukuleles Unite now has a database of 97 names, Yount said, so a good number of ukulele players is expected to show up for Saturday’s flash mob.

After meeting at the fountain, strummers will stroll to an indoor venue, still to be decided, and play several songs, Yount said, probably seasonal numbers.

Among them will be Arthur, a founding member of the Sweet Ukeladies, who meet weekly to play and sing together.

On Wednesday, they met at Marlene O’Keefe’s house to play seasonal music with a Hawaiian swing — “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Blue Christmas” and “Mele Kalikimaka.”

They end each session with “Now is the Hour,” which is based on a Maori farewell song.

O’Keefe said it was a trip to Hawaii four years ago that inspired her to learn to play the ukulele.

She talked about it with members of the Sweet Adelines who carpooled to Sequim together for rehearsals.

She and Arthur, who also wanted to learn to play, recruited experienced musicians Marilyn Butz and Vi Raddatz.

“We picked it right up and ran with it,” O’Keefe said.

Raddatz is a semiretired elementary school teacher who has used ukuleles in the classroom since she started teaching 30 years ago.

Another Ukelady, Pat Hartman, had a friend who grew up in Hawaii who taught her to play.

The friend was a grade school teacher on Seattle’s Beacon Hill.

Hartman, who has lived in Port Townsend for 20 years, said she used to go over and help her teach in her classes.

The Ukeladies perform locally at nursing homes and senior centers.

They also take their ukes when they go on vacation — many own a travel uke made of plastic as well as a regular wood model.

“You can take it to the beach, and it doesn’t matter if you get sand in it,” Hartman said.

Nancy Bardos said she was in a ukulele group when she lived in Ashland, Ore.

After moving to Port Townsend, she connected to the Ukeladies through a workshop at Crossroads Music last year.

Another group formed after that workshop and meets Tuesday afternoons, Ukelady Pam Clise said.

During the past several years, ukulele groups have sprung up all over the country, including in Seattle and Portland, Ore., Yount said.

“It’s sort of a sleeper,” he said. “They are out there, but you wouldn’t know it unless you Googled it.”

For Saturday’s flash mob, Ukuleles Unite members don’t guarantee good weather.

But when a large group of people get together to play their ukuleles, the sound evokes sunny skies, warm beaches and swaying palm trees — the perfect anecdote to winter.

At the November meeting, Yount said, everybody who walked into the church was smiling and left smiling.

“Isn’t this heaven on Earth?” he said.

Ukuleles Unite welcomes beginners and offers ukulele instruction on three levels.

Musicians who play other instruments are also welcome.

The group meets the third Saturday of the month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Grace Lutheran Church, 1120 Walker St., Port Townsend, a block north of Mountain View Commons.

The next meeting is Jan. 21. Loaner instruments are available.

For more information, phone Yount at 360-385-0456.


Jennifer Jackson is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. To contact her, email jjackson@olypen.com.

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