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Ukuleles Keep On Strummin’

Made famous by performers such as Don Ho and Tiny Tim, the ukulele has a proud and popular history that is still going strong even today.

A four-stringed guitar-like instrument that originated in Hawaii, the ukulele has a lively and thriving local following in the form of the Long Island Ukulele Strummers, a club of creative and talented individuals who hold regular bi-weekly meetings in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library.

Suzala, the club’s founder, is a Plainview resident and commercial artist who works in web design and advertising. She has been an avid ukulele player for the past four years, initially pickingup the instrument as a means of entertaining and educating her two young children.

“Children today don’t learn any classic American songs, and I had two very small children at home, and I thought teaching them songs like ‘This Land Is Your Land’ was really important to do,” she said. “My friends came back from their honeymoon in Hawaii with a ukulele, and I borrowed it from them, and that was it...I was sold.”

The both the accessibility and versatility of the ukulele were both powerful draws to Suzala, and according to her, lessons were easy to come by thanks to the Internet.

“It’s the easiest instrument to learn,” she said. “I learned almost everything I know on YouTube...there are people who give total tutorials, finger for finger, chord for chord. It’s amazing.”

About a year ago, Suzala started wondering if there were other ukulele players on Long Island that she could meet up and play with. Putting out ads online and with the library, she set up the first-ever meeting of the Long Island Ukulele Strummers expecting the worst...and was pleasantly shocked by the turnout.

“I was expecting to be sitting in the room all by myself and about 15 people showed up,” she said. “It affirmed that I’m not the only nerd out there playing the ukulele.”

The Long Island Ukulele Strummers draw members from all over the area- Trudy Keating of Point Lookout has been playing for a year and a half, and to her it’s the continuation of a mother-daughter tradition.

“My mother played the ukulele, and it was always a funny thing in our family, as none of us played it,” she said. “But one day I decided to play her ukulele...previously I had a lot going on, but I had more time on my hands. I saw this group on the Internet, and I came here...they’ve a very nice and unique group of people.”

“It’s a very enjoyable and lighthearted pastime,” Keating added. “It’s fun but it’s challenging, and the people who run it are very patient and encouraging.”

Leo Friedlander of Mount Sinai is a retired magician who is a relative newcomer to the ukulele, only having been playing it for the past four months.

“My nephew came to visit me, and he’s a musician who plays instruments like the guitar and the banjo,” he said. “He came with his ukulele this time, and he told me I should try it because it was an easy instrument to learn. I tried it, liked it, and then I found the club here at the library and came on down. This is only my third time here, but they’re very friendly and helpful.”

Plainview resident Jennifer is also a newcomer, but if early indications give any clue, she’ll be a card-carrying member of the club for years to come.

“I’ve been learning from a lot of different people...the ukulele brought us all together,” she said. “It has a really beautiful sound, and it’s so much fun to come here every other week.”

The Long Island Ukulele Strummers meet up every other week at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library, welcoming new members, learning new songs and techniques, singing, and just plain old having fun with each other. In addition, Suzala stressed that the club is all-inclusive; they encourage anyone to come down and sit in, no matter what instrument they play (or even if they don’t play one at all).

“When you get together with two or three or four other ukulele players, they’re always willing include and help each other...I know if it’s because you’re ostracized from the rest of the world or what,” she said. “People come in, introduce themselves, and then you’re playing! Old, young, it doesn’t matter...it’s contagious.”

“There’s something really special about making music with other people,” Suzala added. “There’s something wonderful about it.”