Ukulele club at Adult Community Center continues to grow

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Ron McCallister stepped up to co-lead the Adult Community Center's ukulele club after the original founder moved to California.Five years ago, Ron McCallister was recovering from triple bypass surgery when he took up a new hobby.

His wife, Sandy, told him he needed something that would get him off the couch, and suggested that he take up the ukulele.

McCallister had always loved music, and played the accordion seriously for a few years growing up before his career and family and everything else took over. Now that he was retired and recovering from major surgery, what better time to rediscover a long lost love?

So he began strumming and learning an instrument he’d never touched before. It was a decision that eventually led him to his current role as the co-leader of the Ukulele Club at the West Linn Adult Community Center.

“I just love playing,” McCallister said. “I’ll practice sometimes three to four hours a day ... I love the arranging, I love learning, and there’s so much to learn.”

Indeed, on this particular afternoon, the second Tuesday of May, McCallister brought an electric ukulele with a built-in amplifier and speaker to show fellow club members. The group meets once a week, every Tuesday at 2 p.m., and alternates between free-playing and learning new songs from a variety of sources.

“We mostly just play,” McCallister said. “The first Tuesday of every month we call ‘New Songs Tuesday.’ We invite people to submit songs to us and we take about half of the class time and teach people new songs, how to play the chords, just instruction.”

At regular meetings, after instruction time the group will rotate around the room and each member will pick a song to play. With four different song books, including one left by the group’s founder Chuck Lawson, the ukulele club has almost 1,000 songs to choose from.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Club members take turns selecting songs to play during meetings. Over the years, the club has accumulated nearly 1,000 songs to choose from.

“We just have all the songs we can handle,” McCallister said.

Lawson was still leading the club three years ago when McCallister discovered it. When Lawson moved away to California, McCallister and fellow club member Kate Kaake were left with a choice.

“Well, Ron, I guess it’s going to be you or me leading this thing,” Kaake said to McCallister.

Neither wanted to commit to running the club full-time, however, so they decided to compromise and co-lead their fellow ukulele enthusiasts. Now, the two alternate between meetings.

McCallister’s style of leadership is friendly and casual. After a few minutes of tuning and warming up, he takes his place at the front of the room behind a music stand. From there, he calmly ushers the group through exercises and songs, pausing at times to change the tempo or lightheartedly banter with someone.

Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that the group has grown significantly in recent years.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - With a relaxed and friendly environment, the club has grown over the years from about 12 members to 25.

“It’s about doubled in size,” McCallister said. “Used to be about 12 regular members, and now we’re in the neighborhood of like 25.”

Lake Oswego resident Anne Carter began attending ukulele club meetings about two years ago, and she said the pleasant, tranquil atmosphere made the club very enjoyable.

“People are friendly, and everyone is very welcoming,” Carter said. “It’s a chance to enjoy and play music, which I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise ... it’s a very pleasurable way to spend an afternoon.”

Carter especially enjoys the singing aspect of the club, despite the fact that she “can’t sing at all.”

“I’m sort of a novice compared to everyone else,” Carter said.

Whatever mistakes she makes simply bleed into the strums and hums of the crowd, where everyone is free to learn at his or her own pace.

“The great thing about ukulele is, if you can learn three or four chords, you can play some songs,” McCallister said. “If you can learn five or six chords, you can play 90 percent of the songs.”

The ukulele club is open to all and meets every Tuesday at 2 p.m.

By Patrick Malee
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by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - McCallister picked up the ukulele while recovering from triple bypass surgery, and he's been addicted ever since. He sometimes practices three to four hours a day.

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