When Peggy Thomas meets someone new, one of the first things she shares is her love for the ukulele. It was 1949 and Peggy was spending summer at home after her first year at college. Her father taught Peggy how to play the ukulele that year. Peggy was always musical and always loved to sing, so it was a really nice father/daughter bonding experience. But what Peggy didn’t realize that summer was not only was she receiving the gift of the love of music from her father; she was receiving a lifetime gift of friendships that would help her transcend all generations.
Peggy met her husband Steve, a guitar player, and soon found they loved to sing and play music together. Even as young parents busy raising three sons, they still always found time for music with friends, spending many a weekend evening filling the house with song.
In 2004, the Thomases decided to move to Willow Valley Communities, and it was natural for them to search for a musical community. Even before moving, Peggy contacted other residents about starting a ukulele club. “I was really just looking for people to teach,” remembers, Peggy. “I was hoping to meet new people and just get together about once a month to sing and play together.”
Today, the Willow Valley Communities Ukulele Band has 14 dedicated members, with Peggy managing weekly rehearsals and four performances a month. The members also get together with other Willow Valley Communities music groups in large performances twice a year. This year, the group found out first-hand that the love of the ukulele spans generations.
Michele Conrad, the General Music Teacher at John Beck Elementary School in Lititz, Pennsylvania, heads up the after school music club at the school. She has 17 fourth and fifth grade students learning to play the ukulele. “The ukulele is one of those instruments on the rise,” Michele says. “It’s an accessible instrument– easy to learn and easy to hold.” The school was able to obtain the ukuleles through a grant from Music for Everyone (MFE), a Lancaster not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and resources to strengthen the role that music plays in schools and communities.
MFE helped John Beck Elementary obtain 17 ukuleles– beautiful instruments made of all different shades of warm-toned woods. Michele hung them on the wall in her classroom, much like pieces of art, for her students to enjoy. John Gerdy of MFE connected Michele with Willow Valley Communities’ Ukulele Band. John and MFE have had a long-standing relationship with Willow Valley Communities. Willow Valley supports MFE both through its “Keys for the City” initiative and has helped supply instruments to local schools as well. After learning about the Willow Valley Ukulele Band, Michele decided to invite its members to meet her Ukulele Club for an event. “As a teacher, I want the children to do more than perform,” says Michele. “I want them to build and be part of a musical community.”
And, build a community they did! The two groups met in Michele’s classroom. The group members politely introduced themselves and told a little bit about their experience with the ukulele.
Then the magic began.
The John Beck group performed first, and, much to their delight, the Willow Valley group began to strum along. When the Willow Valley group played, the John Beck group also joined in, smiling, strumming, and singing—even some songs written decades before they were born.
And then both groups played together—freely, effortlessly. Generations beautifully melted away as music rose from their simple wooden ukuleles. Just a room full of people, building relationships through the shared love of music.