String & Sing Along, Just for Fun Ukulele Strummers

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Published on July 28, 2010 with No Comments

by Krystal Vivian

For Madalyn Miller, of Portage, and Chuck Temple, of Chesterton, there isn’t much that is more funand rewarding than playing their ukuleles for an excited audience.

“I love the reaction of the people, when they sing along with you, and sometimes they clap.  You see their faces lighting up,” Miller said. 

Miller and Temple are members of Northwest Indiana’s Just for Fun Ukulele Strummers, composed of musicians from all over Northwest Indiana. 

Temple joined the group in 2004 after reading a newspaper article.  He had played the ukulele while he was in high school, but set it aside for 40 years.  After reading the article, he began attending the practices and has been a loyal member ever since.

Though he picked it up easily, he had to learn how to play the ukulele with a group for the first time, along with other group members.

Two weeks after Temple began practicing with the group in 2004, the Just for Fun Ukulele Strummers played at the Carson Pirie Scott store in Merrillville’s Southlake Mall. 

“We had a terrible time,” Temple said.  “We couldn’t play together.  Now we play together good.” 

Miller joined the group two years ago after her sister encouraged her.  Her sister plays with a ukulele group in Illinois, and thought that Miller would enjoy it.

“I was an empty nester, getting bored and retired from work.  I joined it… and now I really love it,” Miller said.    She retired from Methodist Hospital, Southlake Campus, in 1998, where she was a nurse in the recovery room.

            She is also taking piano lessons, something she has always wanted to do.

            “When you’re working, you don’t have the time.  When you have kids, you don’t have the money.  So now I have all kinds of time,” she said.

            Her father, who was a professional musician, never taught her or her four siblings music, but she hopes some of his talent flows through her fingers.

They travel all across the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana area to various churches, nursing homes, and festivals to play what the strummers call “gigs”. They have strummed their way as far south as DeMotte and as far west as South Holland, IL, but most of their gigs are played in Lake and Porter counties. 

This past weekend, the strummers kept their nimble fingers very busy.  On Thursday, the group played at the First Methodist Church in Whiting.  Friday, they played polka and Polish music at the Pierogi Festival in Whiting, and they finished the weekend by playing at the Taste of Lowell on Saturday.

They have also played for the Portage Historical Society and at the Blue Chip Casino.

The group has a lot of fun together.  Miller loves getting together with everyone else every Wednesday, to play music together and to talk with her friends.

“We love each other, we enjoy each other’s company,” Miller said.  “It’s just fun to get together with everybody.  We share recipes sometimes, and we enjoy each other.”

Though they only practice once a week for two hours, Miller and Temple both hone their skills on their own.

The group is composed of various sizes and sounds of ukuleles.  Most women play the soprano ukuleles, which are smaller and better-suited to thin fingers.  The next size up is the concert ukulele, and then there’s the tenor ukulele.  Tenor ukuleles can have four strings like the other sizes, but they also come in six and eight strings.  There are also baritone ukuleles, which are the size of a small guitar.

Miller plays a soprano ukulele, and Temple has both the six- and eight-string tenor ukuleles.

For gigs, the Just for Fun Ukulele Strummers start out by playing “God Bless America.”  Then, if anyone in the audience has a birthday, they’ll sing “Happy Birthday”.

Next comes a collection of Hawaiian songs, hymns and classics.   The audience often joins in on songs like “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” by Gene Autry; “Anytime” by Eddie Arnold; and “My Little Grass Shack in Kealaeukua Hawaii” by Hank Snow.  They always finish off with “Now Is The Hour” by Bing Crosby. (Their repertoire ranges from Hawaiian music to classics, but they always kick off with “God Bless America”.)

 Any funds are moderated by the group’s treasurer and, at the year’s end, they make a donation to Highland’s Lincoln Center, where they practice, for allowing the Strummers to use their room.

While their audiences are entertained, Miller and Temple also profit from the group.  Both love performing for audiences, especially those who get excited and participate.

“I get satisfaction playing for people, whether we get any money or not.  It doesn’t make any difference.  It’s like nursing when I was a nurse.  I would have done it for free, because I liked it so much,” Miller said.

Temple feels that being a Strummer has had a positive effect on his life.

“It’s made me younger, because you always have something to look forward to.  You’re using your mind and your fingers,” he said.

The Just for Fun Ukulele Strummers practice every Wednesday 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. at the Lincoln Center at 2450 Lincoln St., Room S 17, Highland.  Anyone interested in joining the group is welcome.

For more information, or to schedule them to perform, call 696-8301.

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