Tuned up
Peter Schmeer and Steve Mihok in the second row tune up their instruments with the Vernon Ukelele Players.      Van Dusen photo

Tom Van Dusen
Villager Contributor
OSGOODE – Most people at some time have encountered massed bagpipes, a bunch of pipers playing at the same time in the same place. The crowd loves it.

But massed ukuleles! That’s not something you hear or see every day. However, it is something music lovers can experience on a regular basis at Osgoode Baptist/Vernon United Church on Vernon’s main drag.

On most Thursday evenings at the church, the rafters resonate with the sounds of ukuleles going for the gold, with beginners and regulars alternating sessions and all of them coming together once a month for Circle Jam. All skill levels are welcome; it’s free and loaner ukes are available.

Directed by Sharon Baird, Vernon Ukele Players (VUP) with about 20 members who often mesh as they did on Canada Day with Bytown Ukelele Group (BUG) with more than 580 members to blow the lid off the performance venue. When VUP and BUG come together, stand back music fans!

Russell’s Steve Mihok, a VUP regular, said both musician participation and audience numbers were down Canada Day because of high heat and humidity. However, the small audience was “appreciative as always.”

BUG is hosting a jam session at the Clocktower on Bank Street July 18 when – says director Sue Rogers – the focus will be on “beachy” favourites. Imagine Hot Fun in the Summertime totally ukulele-ized.

This isn’t Tiny Tim strumming the uke for laughs while warbling Tip Toe Thru the Tulips. This is a cluster of serious ukers playing a wide range of tunes ranging from the 1950s to today, adding the distinctive ukulele sound to the traditional mix.

“It’s fun to play and sing with so many voices and ukuleles,” offers Peter Schmeer of Russell as a simple explanation of why he regularly sits in at Vernon uke nights along with his neighbour Mihok.

Both have other musical pursuits, including playing with the Castor River Crew, a folk-rock project of the Russell Music Academy which has begun composing its own original tunes that make room for ukulele riffs. Mihok plays guitar with the Crew while Schmeer plays the ukulele, adding a whole other dimension. CRC members say they weren’t sure how the uke would fit in but now they can’t imagine continuing without it.