Music. The universal language. Good for the soul. And for the brain, say researchers. Especially if you’re the one making the music. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to play an instrument, but think “I’m too old.” Please, make a solemn vow to never utter those words again. Ever.
While you’re at it, eliminate any thoughts about not being musical. That’s one message Maine musician Nina Miller feels very strongly about.
One of my goals now with this part of my life is to reach adults who got really bad messages as kids. Either they were not musical or can’t sing or shouldn’t play an instrument. I want to wipe those bad messages off the planet. I want everyone to know they are musical. If they are alive and breathing, they’re musical.
One way Nina tries to help people express themselves musically is by teaching them how to play the ukulele.
It’s an easy instrument to learn, whether you’re a kid or an adult. It has only four strings. You can learn just four or five chords and play hundreds of songs. So, it’s really not difficult to learn and sound pretty good pretty quickly. They’re also not expensive. You can get a good playing new one for under a hundred dollars.
Nina plays several instruments, including the French horn in the Portland Symphony Orchestra. She played the ukulele for a few months as a child and picked it up again about seven years ago (2012).
That winter, eight people, including Nina, began playing together at the Falmouth Library. They came up with the name the FLUKES for the Falmouth Library Ukulele Society. When Christmas rolled around someone asked if they’d play a holiday gig and the rest is, as they say, history.
We started playing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Then we branched out and played at the Yarmouth Clam Festival, the Portland Public Library, Magic of Christmas with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. It just skyrocketed and now we play everywhere all the time. We love to perform.
Nina now leads the FLUKES, which has grown from eight to about 45 members. I had the pleasure of meeting many of them at a recent rehearsal. They usually rehearse weekly at the Falmouth Library, but because of a major construction project, were at OceanView, a nearby retirement community.
One of the residents, Greta Rothman, came down to check her mail and couldn’t resist the pull of the music.
I heard the music and thought, wow! I love the music. It puts you in the mood.
Greta Rothman, OceanView resident
Nina told me that one thing about the ukulele that makes it so special is that it’s a social instrument that begs to be played with and enjoyed by other people. It also begs for some singing.
Barri Lynn Moreau, the woman in the pink shirt in the video above, plays the piano and the guitar. She picked up the ukulele thinking it would be a better fit for her hands, which are small. She was right.
I was lucky enough to have known Nina since I moved to Portland and I found out she was teaching a class for beginners at Falmouth Adult Ed. I just loved it. All of a sudden I felt this joy coming back to me that I hadn’t felt since I majored in music in college. And I loved singing with a bunch of people who didn’t care what they sounded like, they just wanted to sing for the pure joy of it. I joined the FLUKES about a year ago and it’s filled me with a feeling of belonging and love that I haven’t had for years.
Barri Lynn Moreau
Bill Baukus appreciates the camaraderie and friendship in the group and loves the music they make together.
I live by myself. My wife died eight years ago and so I moved to Portland to be closer to two of my three kids and my grandkids. When I bought my house I made sure there was room for music, so I actually have a music room. I have three or four accordions, ukuleles, mandolins, dulcimers, hammer dulcimers and I play music a lot. If I didn’t have the music, I don’t think I’d be able to survive.
Carrie Peterson bought a ukulele in college in the 60s. It’s baritone, which is the largest sized ukulele, also known as a parlor guitar. There are four main sizes (who knew?): soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
Carrie lugged her baritone uke around for 50 years and dragged it out of the back of a closet about six years ago.
I said, well, I think I need to either get rid of it or do something with it. That’s when all this was coming back into vogue, so I bought a book and I practiced a little bit. I played with a Peaks Island group for a couple of months and then came here. I’ve always loved music. I think it’s good for the soul, good for the head, everything. What it gives me, really, is the camaraderie and great people. It’s wonderful to play music with other people. I think that’s the best part.
Dale Hart used to play with another fabulous musical group in Maine called Fiddle-icious. About four years ago, she went to a FLUKES concert and decided she wanted to learn how to play the ukulele. She was amazed at how quickly she picked it up.
I really feel like Nina is a really good teacher and that’s an important part of it. She told us if you’re going to join you’re going to have to do the homework. It was a little scary at first, but once you do your first gig, you want to keep it going. Performing is exhilarating. And the two most exciting things for me — I can’t tell you how excited I was —we played at Trader Joe’s and we played in the Yarmouth Clam Festival parade, which was my first gig. I’ve never had so much fun. It was a blast. There is something about the uke that brings joy and bringing other people joy brings us joy.
For more information about the FLUKES, visit their Facebook page. If you would like to join the group, you are welcome, but you need to know how to play first. Turns out there are lots of classes available. Ukes are trending!