By Shelley Cotten
(FYI – Dates and times for Ukulele Orchestra may change from time to time — for most up to date information please check their Facebook Page. Thank you! – ABT)
In June of 2015, my husband and I were on vacation with a dear friend in Sedona, AZ and happened upon the “Largest Ghost Town in America,” Jerome, AZ. While dining at a quaint little downtown restaurant, suddenly the door opened and the place was overtaken by a band of ukulele players who had their instruments, music books and other necessary “equipment” with them. Turns out we had happened upon the local ukulele orchestra’s weekly practice spot and were invited to play along. They had some extra ukuleles with them and, although we had no prior experience with the instruments, it was easy to strum along in rhythm with them (well, the strumming was easy, rhythm maybe not). They were preparing for the upcoming Fourth of July parade and we were sorry that we wouldn’t be there to see it – something about a marching ukulele group just seems like it needs to be witnessed. It was so much fun that when we got back home to Waco, we decided to start a ukulele group here. The first meeting of the Waco Ukulele Orchestra was held in October of 2016.
Since then, the group has grown and shrank, ebbed and flowed. Some have come one or a few times and then moved on (literally or figuratively); some music students have come for extra credit; some have come searching for community and a place of respite from the daily grind. Whatever the reason, we have been blessed with a variety of personalities, stories, and musical abilities. The group ranges in age from high school to retired, and in ability from beginner to “expert.” Our high school player is very talented and we are fortunate that she has the time and desire to share her abilities with us. While there are no “assignments” or “jobs,” there are areas where individuals shine and the strengths of the members are well-diversified, from “leading” the practices, to getting gigs, to keeping everyone informed of practices, performances, etc., everyone has input and a place. Finding community in this group is as easy as showing up.
So what do we do, where do we go and how do we “do community?” Beginning in December of 2016, our first outing was “caroling” to nursing homes. We had a diverse group – friends and relatives of the players, some percussionists in the form of youngsters with bells to ring during Jingle Bells (man, could they jingle the heck out of those bells); and, of course, headbands with antlers, candy canes, and lights for those of us willing to wear them. Since that first performance, we have been to several nursing homes, played at the mall during the Christmas season, and our largest “gig” so far has been at the McLennan Community College Foundation’s Hearts in the Arts Theatre Gala in February of 2018, when the group played during the dinner portion of the event.
We originally met twice a month; however, in September, we will begin meeting weekly. First and third Tuesdays will be focused on rehearsing songs for upcoming performances; second and fourth Tuesdays will be geared more towards learning the instrument, chords, strumming patterns, tuning, changing strings, etc. However, all sessions are open to everyone.
The time together on Tuesday evenings, for me, is a period of stepping away from the busyness of life and going back to that great vacation in AZ. The players may change but the comradery doesn’t – there’s just something about music that transcends time, talent, and location and allows me to nestle in my warm, cuddly, blanket of memories. While I can’t speak for the others in the group, clearly, there is something that keeps people coming back – while the enjoyment of playing itself cannot be underestimated, I believe there’s more there and that the Waco Ukulele Orchestra has filled not a “void,” but a niche. No matter one’s age, life stage, economic status, employment status, or significant other status, everyone needs a sense of community in one form or another; this is our way and we hope that you find your way – to us, or to another type of activity – find your spot, claim it, live it, dream it, be it, and then share it!
So, if you find yourself in need of something to do on a Tuesday, come check us out – 7:00 p.m., 2426 Columbus Avenue. Everyone is welcome – bring a ukulele, a music stand, and a great attitude and prepare for rip-roaring fun and making new friends! Even if you don’t play, we may need a manager and a costume designer down the road!
Shelley Cotten is the Coordinator of Operations and Scholarships for the McLennan Community College Foundation. A native of Lubbock, TX, she and her husband moved to Waco from Swan River, Manitoba in 2013. They have a daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, and two dogs. The grandchildren, of course, have top billing.
Whether it’s playing trumpet in the “Friday Band” at MCC, or riding with the Waco Knight Riders, or an afternoon playing with the Waco Disc Golf Association, one of the wonderful things about Waco is that there are lots of ways to find community here. Where do you find community in Waco? Would you be interested in writing about it? If so, let us know. Email [email protected]. If you have an idea for a post. You could be seeing your own picture on this page!