It’s a typical early November fall-leaning-toward-winter day in Chicago; most of the trees have shed their leaves, the wind is blowing and pedestrians are pulling their jackets tightly around themselves and dreading the upcoming cold. But inside a small, brightly painted studio space in the Old Town School of Folk Music’s East Building in Lincoln Square, a group of fifteen students are circled around an exuberant instructor, carefully strumming and plucking the strings of miniature guitars as if the weather report were seventy-five and sunny with a slight chance of rain.
The instruments are `ukuleles (which you should absolutely never refer to as miniature guitars) and the instructor is Lanialoha Lee (Lani to her students), a buoyant Hawaiian woman who laughs loudly, easily and often and takes both her Pacific Island and Midwestern roots seriously. She’s been playing the `ukulele (among other instruments) for decades and teaching at Old Town for sixteen years now, slowly expanding her repertoire from a single `ukulele class in the fall of 1996 to almost a dozen Polynesian-centered offerings this fall, including a range of hula and `ukulele classes at different skill levels. The class I’m visiting tonight is beginner-level `Ukulele 1 and this is their first lesson (which is why most of the strumming doesn’t sound exactly melodic). Read the rest of this entry »