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Ukulele lessons

Students at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales learn to play the ukulele on instruments the school won in a contest. (Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban) Students at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales learn to play the ukulele on instruments the school won in a contest.
Uke-otta hear this: Children at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington learning to play ukuleles.
 
Free ukes.
 
Thanks to a win in a contest sponsored by Kala, a popular brand of ukuleles, the school got 45 of the instruments at no cost at the beginning of the current school year.
 
The ukulele, sometimes abbreviated to uke, is a member of the lute family of string instruments.
 
“I enjoy the ukulele; it makes a beautiful sound,” fourth grader Isabella Thurber, 9, said after a March music class during which the students worked on their ukulele skills.
 
March is Music in Schools Month.
 
“Whenever you can put an instrument in the hands of a child, it’s exciting,” enthused Principal David Estes.
 
Ken Pallman, father of fourth grader Kaelene, is a drummer who took up the uke about three years ago; he likes it so much he has 17 in his collection – including two Kalas. “It’s more fun than the recorder,” a common musical instrument for entry-level school band members, he said. “It sounds like a happy instrument. You can’t be sad and play a uke. It’s a blast.”
 
He entered a Facebook contest and encouraged others to participate, and the result was a prize of 45 ukes for the Catholic school.
 
Students in grades four and five are learning to play the ukulele during their weekly 45-minute music classes, and this is the first time the school has provided instruments. (Third graders learn to play the recorder, and like students who play in a school band, their families must provide their instruments.)
 
“We’ve never done the ukulele; we’ve done the recorder. Ukuleles are more fun,” said Ryan Maroney, 10, a fourth grader.
 
Classmate Vincent Mattison, 10, called out his enthusiasm for “Hey, Ho! Shalom” when his music teacher, Stephanie Paul, asked students to play it. “It’s slow, and you don’t have to change chords,” he said.
 
He likes the instrument because, he said, “once you learn it, you can play the guitar.”
 
The ukulele has four strings; the guitar six or 12.
 
Kaelene Pallman, 10, already is learning to play the guitar, which she said helps her with the uke. “This is easier because I know how to do the fingering” of the chords, she said.
 
Ken Pallman, inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as a drummer in 2014, said there has been a “huge upswing” in interest in ukuleles over the past half dozen years. “I think it’s because it is an instrument anybody can pick up and at least noodle on and get somewhat proficient,” he said, adding that ukulele groups are forming throughout the country.
 
There is even one in Bennington that people of all ages attend.
 
The instrument is popular, Paul said, because it is easily grasped. “You can start to feel you’ve mastered the ukulele pretty easily, and it’s a lifetime instrument you can play.”
 
Taking ukulele lessons at school gives Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales students “an opportunity if they are not so inclined to do something musical,” Pallman said. “Music is a wonderful thing.”
 
He said students who learn to read music increase their math proficiency because musical notes are based on math.
 
“You have to know your numbers” to learn music, said fourth grader Zoey Zazzaro, 10. “You have to get your timing right.”
 
When Paul was a child she had difficulty with long division, and in the fifth grade began playing the saxophone. Within a year and a half she was in advanced math class. “It’s getting that part of the brain turned on” that affects both music and math skills, she said.
 
She called it a “blessing” to give the children the hands-on experience of the ukulele. “They can see their progress and hopefully use this experience to be confident as they try out other instruments in their lives.”
 
Some of the ukulele players will accompany the school chorus during a performance of “Over the Rainbow” in the spring concert.
 

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Students playing ukuleles. Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban
Last modified onThursday, 13 April 2017 03:16
Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Urban is a longtime writer for the communications efforts of the Diocese of Burlington and former editor of The Vermont Catholic Tribune.

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