Creating Community in Music: Joining a Ukulele Club in Waterloo

By Kayla Haas

It is often society’s habitual response to think that because someone has a disability they have to be fixed, or cured, or engaged in some sort of therapy or skill development. What about engaging in something for the enjoyment and enrichment of sharing something we are passionate about with another person? That has been our experience with our local ukulele club.

Music is an important place of connection for Allison and I. We share a love of experiencing music. Allison plays percussion and I play the ukulele. We also sing, dance, and attend concerts together. Through music our relationship has grown. It gives us space to learn about each other’s unique and shared talents while engaging in something we both love.

As part of our Sadie’s Place Bridges to Community, we explored a local ukulele club. Our first experience with this club was incredibly positive and inclusive. They are truly open to all ages and skill levels! We were welcomed in like old friends and felt an immediate sense of belonging with like-minded musicians. Joe (the founder of the group) and Dianne were all smiles when we walked in the room and greeted us enthusiastically. Joe started the club after attending a similar group in Hespeler. He says he was drawn in by the diversity of players and the shared love of music, “It didn’t matter who you are, you all talked and you all played, it was just a nice feeling” Joe reflected (Vrbanac, 2016, para. 10).

This group of musicians shares a number of principles we hold at Sadie’s Place for Innovative Inclusion. Difference is not only welcomed, but also celebrated! Before we arrived at the ukulele club for the first time, I wondered what the response would be to having Allison bring her drum—this was after all a ukulele group. I hoped she would be recognized as a fellow music lover who brought in a different skill set, rather than someone who didn’t fit in with the rest of the “uke” players. And she absolutely was! Members expressed their excitement with having drumbeats among the sounds of stringed instruments. Another example of celebrating difference is in the encouragement to play intuitively, so as to welcome everyone’s unique musical style.

Ukuleles and Drum

The ukulele club instruments

The ukulele club also shares our Sadie’s Place philosophy that emphasizes a focus on relationships, interdependence, and collaboration. The focus of the group is on creating music collaboratively. Members look to one another for support when learning a new song or leading an old favourite. This group recognizes that no musician is an island. Through mutual support we are able to create something greater than any one person could. New members are always welcome, and the group only gets better with each new addition.

This group also shares our understanding of meaningful engagement in recreation and leisure experiences. It is clear to Allison and I that the ukulele club exists to connect people who share a love of music, rather than to train professional musicians. Occasionally, a member would pose a question about a difficult chord or strumming pattern. Don, the group leader, would always answers questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. He reminded everyone to enjoy the music first, and put technical skill second. He also emphasized that if the strumming pattern didn’t match the rest of the group, it was perfectly all right! It was this love for music and passion for playing that brought the club together.

Ukulele Club

Some of our friends from the ukulele club

After our first visit we left the ukulele club with a renewed love of music and an expanded repertoire of songs to practice. The positive spirit of the ukulele club left us eager to return for future jam sessions. Allison will often reflect “I like the music” and will punctuate her thoughts with some singing. We are excited to call ourselves regular members of this inclusive community of people passionate about ukulele!

To learn more about the ukulele club, please read this interview with Joe in the Waterloo Chronicle! If you want to join us and be a part of the music, come check out the club on Wednesday nights from 6:30pm – 8:30pm. The club usually meets at the Wing 404 R.C.A.F.A. Rotary Adult Centre in Waterloo but for the summer we are at the Adult Recreation Centre in Uptown Waterloo. Check out the ukulele club’s Facebook page for more details. Everyone is welcome!

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