SPOTLIGHT: Quad City fans form ukulele club

By Todd Welvaert

The (Moline) Dispatch

Published: Tuesday, March 13 2012 4:40 a.m. MDT

In this photo taken Feb. 29, 2012, Abbigayle Hicks, left, of Taylor Ridge, Ill., and Erin Mahr, of Rock Island, Ill., pose with ukuleles at West Music in Moline, Ill. The two have formed the Quad City Ukulele Club in hopes of spreading the fun that the instrument brings to any song. The club's first meeting was March 3, and members have tentative plans to meet the first Saturday of each month at West Music.

The Dispatch, Todd Wevaert) QUAD CITY TIMES OUT, Associated Press

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MOLINE, Ill. — It's a little instrument, but it can make a pretty big sound. And organizers of the Quad City Ukulele Club hope it's a sound that going to be heard around town.

"I think, for both of us, it's just such a fun instrument, and one that's gaining popularity again," said Erin Mahr, of Rock Island, a QCUC organizer. "We've had a good time playing ours; we just want to help other people find that fun, too."

Ms. Mahr and Abbigayle Hicks, Taylor Ridge, both work for West Music's Moline store. They got interested in the ukulele about the same time.

"I received a ukulele on my birthday," Ms. Hicks said. "I found a purple paisley ukulele, and it was kind of love at first sight. It's been a lot of fun since."

Ms. Hicks has played the piano since she was a child and also plays several other instruments, but she never could quite master the guitar.

"I had one in college and tried to play, but I was terrible," she said. "I think it's because you have six strings and four fingers, whereas with a ukulele, it's four strings and four fingers.

"I just love the sound of it, the fun aspect it brings to every song you play with it. You can't help but smile when you play it."

The ukulele has seen a resurgence in popularity, played by such artists as Eddie Vedder, Bruno Mars and actress-singer Zooey Deschanel. And 35-year-old ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro has led the charge on YouTube, with his rendition of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" tallying 9 million views.

Internationally, the number of ukuleles sold jumped 16 percent last year, according to the National Association of Music Merchants, while retail-sales figures increased by 26 percent.

Prices for ukuleles run from $35 to $300. They come in three sizes: concert, soprano and baritone. Ms. Hicks said they all have a similar voice, with the baritone and concert versions providing slightly deeper tones.

Ms. Mahr found a green paisley ukulele and started playing about a year ago. She taught the beginner's ukulele class for West this January and brought the idea for a club back from a music-educators workshop.

"When we offered the beginners class, we had a really good response, and when we started talking about a club, there seemed to be a lot of interest," Ms. Mahr said. "The biggest reason we wanted to start a club is because there wasn't one in the area. We just wanted to do something low-key. ... Just a fun time, no registration fees, no sign your life away. Just fun, happy-time music."

The club's first meeting was quite a success, with a large turnout and players young and old. Ms. Mahr and Ms. Hicks have plans for some public outings once the members have a few songs under their belts, maybe playing at local retirement homes or even at the Bix Fest.

"The nice thing about the ukulele is you can play any kind of music you want," Ms. Mahr said, "from Train's 'Hey Soul Sister,' Jason Mraz; they even played a ukulele on the season finale of 'Glee.'

"And yes, I'm a little embarrassed that I know that."

Information from: The Dispatch, http://www.qconline.com

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