Originally published at The Tigard Times on October 1, 2015
Tigard Ukulele Group brings passion to oft-overlooked instrument
Joshua Waldman’s living room is getting crowded these days.
Waldman, 37, is an amateur musician and often has friends over to jam in his Tigard home.
But the band crowding his living room every weekend isn’t playing guitar, basses or drums.
Instead, they’re picking and strumming on tiny handheld ukuleles.
Waldman started the Tigard Ukulele Group in August, made up of 10 to 15 ukulelists from Tigard, Beaverton, Lake Oswego and West Linn.
“The response has been incredible,” he said. “The first day we had 25 people saying they’d come.”
Pass and play
It’s an informal group, with members coming and going. Waldman said it’s about community.
The musicians come from all over the musical spectrum, said Waldman, an employment consultant by day. Some are accomplished musicians who have been playing for decades. Others, like Waldman, are still learning.
“Some of them have been playing for 25 years,” he said.
Group members bring songs to play and arrange the make-shift orchestra to play the different parts.
“It’s pass and play,” Waldman said. “We’ll all play the song a few times, then go around the circle and play somebody else’s songs.”
Waldman is looking for a new home for the group, which could probably double in size, he said, if they had more room to play.
“My living room can only hold so many,” he said.
Waldman and his wife were looking to learn an instrument together, and settled on ukulele about nine months ago because of its simplicity.
“We bought two $50 ukes on Amazon,” he said. “It’s a beautiful instrument. With guitar, you really have to practice and get your hands in shape to play well, but with ukulele, you can play your first chord with one finger. It’s very accessible.”
A drummer, Waldman has played in jazz and hip-hop groups over the years, but said that he was interested in playing something a bit less cumbersome.
“Drums are too loud, and they take hours of practice,” he said. “But ukulele is easy to learn, it’s portable, it’s fun to play — it’s just great.”
Portland’s ukulele community is large, and frequently meets to play together, he said.
Waldman joined the Portland Ukulele Association, which meets once a month in Portland, but said that there are few options for musicians on the west side to get together.
“I wanted to play more frequently and I didn’t want to drive so far to get there,” Waldman said.
The solution was simple, he said: Start a group for Tigard-area players.
From The Beatles to Jason Mraz
Waldman brings his ukulele with him everywhere, he said.
He plays on his lunch break, he plays at local coffee shops, he plays in his hotel room when he travels on business for his consulting company.
“It’s not a loud instrument (so) you don’t bother people when you play, unlike a guitar which can take over a space,” Waldman said. “I could play inside a coffee shop and nobody else would know.”
That’s exactly what happened a few months ago, Waldman said. He was at Symposium Coffee on Southwest Main Street quietly playing in a back room when another customer entered, carrying a ukulele of his own.
“He said, ‘You’re kidding me,’ and I said, ‘Nope. Let’s do this.’ We played together for an hour.”
Waldman’s group plays traditional ukulele songs, as well as The Beatles and newer artists, such as Jason Mraz, Waldman said.
“Everybody knows the songs, which is really nice,” he said.
Waldman said he’d like to see his group grow, if he can find a place to gather.
“Ukulele groups tend to be largely baby boomers,” he said. “It’d be great if we had a wider representation of generations.”
The group’s objective is to have fun, he said. There aren’t any plans for public performances yet.
“I can see us playing senior centers around Christmas,” he said. “That’d be fun. Or maybe the occasional open mic.”
For more information about the Tigard Ukulele Group, and to get invited to their next session, visit tigardukes.com.