Some brows are furrowed in concentration, toes are tapping, and fingers are strumming on Sunday afternoon at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Centre. The NOTL Ukesters, 90 strong, are gathered for their weekly fix of playing music and singing along together. Songs include some holiday favourites and various other popular tunes, from It Had to be You, to This Land is Our Land, or I’ll Follow the Sun.
This merry band of music makers has been getting together to play their ukeles every Sunday since 2012. The group was co-founded by Alan Ash and Doug Widdicombe. Ash, himself an accomplished jazz musician, leads the Sunday sessions. He said he loves being part of the Ukesters “because of the connection that we have as a group. No matter how we arrive, we always leave feeling lifted up, it’s such a great vibe.”
According to Ash, many members were absolute beginners when they started, and he enjoys seeing them progress. There are workshops available for beginners through to more advanced levels to help boost abilities. Most members practice on their own, to be ready for the dozen or so songs they’ll be playing each week.
Elaine Bryck joined the group a year and a half ago. “It’s a wonderful way to share some music and friendship. I was new to NOTL when I started, and everyone was very welcoming, it was a great way to get to know people here,” she said.
Now Bryck takes care of the Ukesters active Facebook page. “We get out once or twice a month to play at local seniors residences” added Bryck, “and we play at Monty’s in St. Catharines once a month too.”
Another member, Gary Evans, said it’s fun “because everyone does what they can, the atmosphere is entirely non-judgemental.”
When individuals step up to the front of the auditorium to perform something solo as part of the open mike section of the day, all eyes and ears are tuned in. Shoulders sway to the sounds, heads are nodding, some quietly join in and sing along on the chorus. Warm smiles and enthusiastic applause greet the brave ones who do venture up on their own, rewarding their efforts.
NOTL Ukesters supports several local charities throughout the year, including Newark Neighbours, Hospice NIagara, and Niagara Workers Welcome. This year they made donations totalling $4,500. The money comes from membership dues and the small honouraria they sometimes get when they perform in the community.
Notes from a recent members survey sum up what they like most about the Ukesters; “sense of community,” “extremely happy and positive atmosphere,” and, “I always leave with a smile, feeling uplifted.”
What do they like least? According to at least one member, “the 6 days in between Sundays.”