In tune: Ukulele club forms in Rutland County

Gus Bloch shows off a baritone ukulele, which is strung similar to a guitar. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

Ukulele players show off their instruments. Ukulele’s come in varrying sizes, with the most common being a saprano, concert, tenor and baritone. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

By Robert Layman

If you’re a ukulele player in Rutland County, you might have noticed a deficit of instrument-specific clubs, performances and jam sessions for your hobby.

By chance, if you’re at the farmers’ market and Rick Redington is playing, he will pull out a glossy uke and perform his rendition of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

But most ukuleles in homes are ornamental — bought at a dive bar in some coastal town, yard sale or flea market. If the ukulele is lucky, it was bought with the intent to be played but was later forgotten.

How do I know? Most people know my photo credit, but don’t know I’ve been an avid ukulele player for 10 years. I’m always excited when I visit someone’s home, whether they’re a subject for a photo or a new friend, and see a ukulele on the wall, mantle or room corner.

But what disappoints me is their ukuleles are (almost) always dusty and just there to look at; sometimes painted with parrots and sayings like “It’s 5 ‘o clock somewhere.”

Brattleboro has made a name for itself among ukulele players with its annual flash mob that draws dozens. In Bristol, there’s the Vermont Ukulele Society, and ukers to the east in Hanover, New Hampshire, have the Upper Valley Ukulele Club.

Barb Richter, left, and friend Bela Schug tune up before class. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

To the north are a handful of organizations in Burlington and Montpelier that draw bi-monthly followers. Finally there is a place for players in Rutland.

Recently, two friends who are also neighbors set out to create a ukulele club.

Last Thursday night, Sheila McIntyre and Debbie Franzoni reserved the common space at the Castleton Community Center’s Wellness Center and drew in 18 players for beginning and intermediate ukulele sessions.

“We had people from all across the county,” McIntyre said. “People from Wells, Wallingford, Rutland. It was a real good cross section.”

McIntyre, who’s played for a year and a half, hired her teacher Gus Bloch, former Rutland City Band director, to lead the first two sessions.

“We wanted to start if off right,” she said. “We work by donation, when we can we’ll bring in a trained teacher.”

And start it off right they did.

“I was just amazed that so many people showed up,” she said.

Groups were divvied up into beginners and advanced players. Bloch gave tips on chords, strumming, notes — even nomenclature.

“When ukuleles were first shown to people in Hawaii, the Hawaiians thought the player’s hand looked like a ‘jumping flee,’ which in Hawaiian sounds like ‘ukulele,’” Bloch said.

Bloch said the correct pronunciation is “Ooo-kul-lele,” instead of “You-kul-lele,” he said.

In a separate room at the Wellness Center, McIntyre worked with a group of more advanced players.

“The group we had in the little room, we sounded pretty darn good,” she said. “It’s an easy instrument to learn — three chords and you’re off and running.”

The next class will be held Sept. 6 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Castleton Community Center’s Wellness Center.