Photos and story by Alyssa Evans
The Blaine Senior Center was bustling with activity on a Tuesday afternoon last month – cribbage players were cribbing, painters painted roses and others puzzled over a challenging puzzle near the pool hall. Away from the action was the Blaine Ukulele Group, eager to practice.
As the group starts to play and find its rhythm with songs such as “You Are My Sunshine” and “Country Roads,” the tapping of feet quickly makes its way around the circle. Every so often, a smile breaks out as they sing the chorus to one of their favorite songs. Often, passersby stop to listen and continue humming as they step away.
The group continues to play each song on the set list, regardless of whether or not the right notes are hit.
“You can always tell when it’s bad because people will turn down their hearing aids,” joked Patrick Madsen, the group’s leader.
The group started in 2015 after some members of the Bellingham Ukulele Group who lived in Blaine decided they wanted to get together between the Bellingham meetings.
The group is open to anyone, regardless of age, skill level and residency. Members come from all over Whatcom County and sometimes out-of-state visitors join in. Those who want to participate but don’t have a ukulele can contact Madsen to borrow one.
“You can learn the ukulele in 30 minutes,” Madsen said.
Madsen has played ukulele for six years and guitar for 58. Most of the other group members have been playing ukulele for less than a year.
Tom Burton joined the group in April, after starting to play on his own in January.
“Coming to the group has been an eye-opener for me,” Burton said. “I’d recommend anyone playing an instrument play with other people.”
There isn’t a wrong way to play the ukulele, which is one of the reasons Burton said he enjoys playing the instrument.
“It was cool. They just let me sit down and play. I couldn’t even strum a chord,” Burton said. “It’s very inspiring to be here.”
The group has a consistent attendance of around 10 people each meeting, Madsen said. The group size provides an opportunity to get out and socialize with others. Being in the group provides a chance to learn things you wouldn’t otherwise if you were playing alone, said member Lynn Schuman.
“I like the structure of the group,” said Jeri White. “There’s more support than if we were alone. We tend to do better with numbers and sound better.”
White’s grandfather was a musician, but she never had enough money to take music lessons while growing up. “Music keeps you happy. It keeps you going,” she said.
The Blaine Ukulele Group meets at the Blaine Senior Center on the second and fourth Tuesday every month from 1 to 2:30 p.m.