Dave Ford, left, Kieran Geary, center, and Joseph Thvedt, founding members of the Brookings County Ukulele Society, strum through “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” in Larson Park last week. The group, which includes Doug Purcell, has been meeting monthly since last fall. Photo by Charis Prunty/Register
• Brookings County Ukulele Society created by four co-workers, friends
BROOKINGS – It was a funny moment last year when friends and Larson Manufacturing co-workers Joseph Thvedt, Dave Ford and Kieran Geary realized they had a common – and unusual – hobby.
Thvedt’s wife was having a birthday party, so he cooked up the idea that he and Ford could perform for guests on the ukuleles they had recently learned to play.
“Joseph invited me to play guitar while they played ukulele and I said, ‘Well, I have ukuleles, can I play ukulele too?’” Geary said.
“Doesn’t everyone?” Ford said, chuckling.
Thvedt became interested in the instrument – which looks like a four-stringed mini guitar – while in Hawaii during 2010. According to the ‘Ukulele Guild of Hawai’i, the first ukulele was probably made in the 1880s by Portuguese cabinet makers from the Madeira Island, who emigrated to the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1879.
“Shortly (after my trip to Hawaii), Dave bought one and said how much fun he was having, so I bought one as well,” Thvedt said.
They worked up a few songs for the birthday party and performed for friends there. That experience was so much fun, he wanted an excuse to get together regularly, Thvedt said. From that desire was born the Brookings County Ukulele Society.
The three quickly convinced co-worker Doug Purcell, who had never before played an instrument, to join them. Their meetings are the first Tuesday of every month and “pretty informal.” Ford hosts them in the basement of his home, where he projects song chords straight from the Internet onto a wall, so they can strum through anything that interests them.
They try new music each month and it’s not all covers of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole or Arthur Godfrey. Like a group they appreciate, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, these guys like to branch out.
“We play a lot of more popular music,” Ford said. “I like taking stuff that you wouldn’t think was on the ukulele and then learn it on there. So, there’s a lot of Beatles songs that I like; I’ve learned a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, the Eagles, all kinds of different stuff.
“Some songs work better than others. I mean, some you can’t get them to sound quite right, just because of the limitations of the instrument,” he added.
“Or (of) the players,” Geary said, laughing.
The ukulele comes in four sizes; the traditional is now called the soprano, but these men were all playing the tenor Wednesday, which is slightly larger.
“It’s a shorter fret board (than a guitar) and that kind of determines your range,” Thvedt said. “Compared to a guitar, you’re a little bit limited, but you can play what you need to play.”
They’ve had other players attend meetings, and are very welcoming to anyone interested. The three men said they’d be happy to help a newcomer learn the basics of ukulele playing. Ford’s wife and three children, ages 8, 12 and 16, all play to some extent; Geary’s 10-year-old has been picking it up over the past couple weeks, too.
“I got my kids started on it because it fits their hands well; it’s small,” Ford said. “But then, if they want to learn to play guitar later on, they’ve already built some of the skills for doing that.
“It is kind of a mini guitar,” he said. “The chord shapes are the same as a guitar, even though they’re in a different key. So, if you’ve learned to play a guitar, you can jump on it and just really start playing.”
This was the case for Geary and Ford, who both have years of experience on the guitar. Geary said he is a collector of stringed instruments, and there has been a little “ukulenvy” – envy of another person’s ukulele – going around as Thvedt and Ford have upgraded their instruments. Ford now uses an instrument that can be plugged into an amplifier for recording purposes.
Ford is working on some multi-part arrangements for the group and does hope the Brookings County Ukulele Society can commit some songs to memory, so it will be ready to perform at the occasional event.
To learn more about or contact the Brookings County Ukulele Society, visit brookingsuke.blogspot.com or email BrookingsUke@gmail.com.
Contact Charis Prunty at email@example.com.