SALEM, Ore. — The sounds of an upbeat version of “Walk the Line” floated through the air at Candalaria Terrace as 24 ukulele players strummed in unison.
How many places can you go where people are this welcoming, whether you know anyone or can even do what they do, asked Doneille Chomiak, one of the group’s leaders.
Anyone can join the Ukulele Fans of Oregon’s monthly gathering, whether they know how to play or not.
The group meets on the third Sunday of each month at the LifeSource Community Room, 2661 Commercial Street SE. From 1 to 1:20 p.m., players can stop by and learn a few chords. From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., it’s an open jam session of all kinds of ukes and players of all abilities.
The only thing people interested in joining have to do is show up. There are even extra ukes and music books on hand to borrow.
“I’ve never known anything that brings people together like this,” Chomiak said.
People as young as 13 and as old as 91 have come to their meetings, Chomiak said.
“We’ve heard from so many people (that) this is the most fun they’ve had playing the ukulele,” Chomiak said.
As the musicians played their tiny instruments, smiles and laughter filled the room and applause ended each song.
The group plays everything from folk music to hits on the radio.
There’s enough talent in the group that they can play a new song once or twice and be good at it, said Janet Russell, from Salem.
The ukulele is easy to learn, several group members said. If you can learn three chords, you can play thousands of songs, Chomiak said.
“If you make a mistake, with this many people, nobody knows,” Pamela Putnam said with a wink.
Steve Tong, of Salem, started playing the ukulele when he retired a year and a half ago. He’s been to four different groups in the area and has run across members of this group at other jams.
The best part for Tong is being surrounded by friendly people who have the same interest as him and love singing.
“It’s really the highlight of my retirement,” Tong said.
Back in the old days, anytime people would gather, someone would bring along a guitar. That doesn’t happen anymore, but you see ukulele players get together. You don’t see flute players doing that, said Steve Yant, who plays in a local trio called Evergreen Ukulele Trio.
“I think there’s a ukulele phenomenon going on,” Yant said. “It’s kind of a grassroots music thing.”