Steel City Ukuleles Inspire Community, Musical Gatherings
This group meets twice a month at the Wilkins School Community Center.
After enjoying a session of the Steel City Ukuleles musical gathering, founder Marlene Parrish said if you don’t walk away smiling, you don’t have a pulse.
“We are so glad to see each other and just hate to leave, and usually by the end, people are sitting there jamming,” Parrish said.
The group formed last June and meets from 7 to 9 p.m. every first and third Wednesday of the month at the Wilkins School Community Center. While the core group has about 15 members, Parrish said they are looking for new people interested in this miniature musical instrument.
“It’s just a bunch of people committed to playing the ukulele and singing for fun,” Parrish said. “We have a template for teaching and a whole list of songs. We take three or four easier songs for people in the room who may be fairly new and try to get a proper intro to it, decide the verses and a proper ending.”
The sessions also are comprised of playing other songs together, one of which included a parody of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” reworked into a more Pittsburgh-friendly version called, “Dahntahn.”
The group finds new songs to play in a book called “The Daily Ukulele,” which has 365 different tunes for the year, and also consults websites for various options.
“We have beginners, intermediate and really good players,” Parrish said. “It’s a whole continuum and we try to meet everybody’s needs one at a time.”
After its first six months, the group is ready to play for group homes for the elderly and other audiences. Patty Doody of the WSCC said the Steel City Ukuleles were a big hit at the holiday party in Regent Square.
"And that was their first gig, which you would have never guessed, since they had style and panache," Doody said. "The group enjoys playing, so you enjoy listening. Plus, many of the tunes they play are tunes that you know, and they encourage a singing along."
Parrish, who has written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for many years, said the ukulele has given her a new outlet for fun. It’s also one of the few instruments that can be thrown in the back of the car and easily taken just about anywhere.
“Personally, I can amuse myself, I can grow and learn new things,” she said. “I was looking for something to invest considerable energy in and this is different. It works a different part of the brain.”
In addition to the music, the people in the group add another element to the enriching aspect of the playing the ukulele.
“It’s the community—it’s about being with other people and it’s helpful,” she said. “We start laughing from the time we walk in the room to the time we leave. It’s just a whole new way to be.”
For more information, e-mail Parrish at firstname.lastname@example.org.