Then and Now
In 2012, I was living in Victoria, and had seen the documentary The Mighty Uke on TV. I decided to buy an ukulele, and heard about a local ukulele group that met weekly in Victoria at the Oak Bay Seniors Center. I joined in early 2013. It was a group of about fifty members and it was a lot of fun !
In the summer, we moved to Mission and I decided to start a group in Mission in November 2013. We met at the old Mission Seniors Center and we had about 4 or 5 members come out. We played at a Christmas luncheon at the seniors center in one of the early years.
At some point we moved over to the St. Andrews Housing Coop as they had a nice carpeted room, and a small kitchen for coffee and goodies at break time. I believe Yvonne was instrumental in setting that up for the group.
The word started to spread and new members starting showing up. We sat with our chairs in a circle, which was part of the group’s name, Circle.
Ukulele Cross Pollination
Brian Pinkerton got me out to a couple of ukulele events. One with Ralph Shaw in Vancouver one evening. And another one in Chilliwack with the Langley Ukulele high school ensemble playing.
I was the defacto leader, and over the next few years, with the help of Brian Pinkerton we put together our first songbook, the red one. A year later we did the blue book.
Later on Mission members would go the meetings with the White Rock Group with over 100 people attending, or the Coquitlam group. I saw there were a number of ukulele groups around the lower mainland and was a big community of people.
I called this Cross Pollination. Going to other ukulele groups and seeing how they play and operate, and bringing back an idea or two, to try in our group. That is how we got to playing The Intermission Time song int he blue book, which the White Rock group did and allowed us to use in our book.
At some point we started having solos after the break, allowing members to showcase their ukulele talents and songs, which was a great addition to the meeting.
We started to play at community events like the Rotary Christmas Event, and Christmas Tree Decorating Event at the Anglican Church, both events that the group is still playing at this year !
While I was leading the group, we played at a member’s wedding in Maple Ridge which sounded great in an A frame hall, and a couple of Celebrations of Life for a member’s wife and a member. It is fulfilling to bring music to life’s important situations like these.
More Ukulele Groups Born
We had ukulele players from other towns come to our meetings, and then go back to start a new ukulele group in their towns. I am aware that the Mission group spawned ukulele groups in Maple Ridge, Harrison Hot Springs, and Abbotsford. There may be more that I am not aware of.
The group kept growing with new members showing up each month, and we were averaging about 30 members a week, during the last year I was in Mission. When I left I did not know the names of everyone who attended.
A Friendship Foundation
I found that coffee time was as important as the music time at the Mission weekly meetings. Coffee time gave members time to speak with one another and friendships were built. I feel these friendships are part of the strong foundation for why the group maintains it’s members, longevity and momentum.
To see how the group has continued to grow reminds of visiting an old neighbourhood ten years later. What struck me was how the trees and shrubs that were small, had now grown and doubled in size, making the neighbourhood more mature.
I moved to Merritt, BC in Oct. 2019, and started the Merritt Ukulele Circle in early 2020, just before the pandemic. The pandemic shut us down for a couple of years we are now operating again.
The Merritt group meets twice a month on the second and fourth Tuesday evenings. On the first and third Tuesdays of each month, the group plays at one of three local seniors homes.
Credit to Ron Schaffert for seeing how he provided music to seniors home for 40 years in Abbotsford and Mission, when I sang in his choir for a couple of years. The choir a great way to learn how to sing harmony.
Credit to Ken Smith for the phrase ans T-shirt – I Love Playing in the MUC, which was the Mission Ukulele Circle. I have continued to use it for the Merritt Ukulele Circle in our newsletters.
I recently held a 4 week Beginner Ukulele Course at the Merritt Library which had twelve people attend. It was a great success and we now have a few of those members attending our group.
We also have new members coming from the seniors homes. They are a very appreciative audience when we play there, and a few of them decided they would like to play the ukulele.
The Merritt group has also participated in the Country Christmas Concert last year and the Community Spring Concert this year.
Continue Creating Music
It seems many of us have a desire to create music. The ukulele is a small affordable instrument that I feel allows anyone to get “up and running” quickly to make music of their own.
I’m so pleased that the Mission group has carried on with many of the same traditions as a few years ago and evolving with new ones, and new members and new events to play music at.
Below are some pictures taken at events in the first six years.
All the best for the next ten years.