Customers at Biddle’s Escape Coffee Shop applauded as the folks from Steel City Ukuleles strummed out classics like “These Boots are Made for Walkin” by Nancy Sinatra and “When I’m 64” by the Beatles on the cafe’s back porch.
Since the weather warmed up, the group has moved its bi-weekly jam sessions from the Wilkins School Community Center to the coffee shop located in Regent Square.
According to ukulele player Elizabeth Gorden of Point Breeze, the core members of Steel City Ukuleles met two years ago during a Carnegie Mellon University class for people 55 and up. Some people from the class wanted to keep playing together and formed the ukulele circle, which now has around 10 to 15 players at a time.
“We knew that ukulele is really spreading around the world... It’s nice to have a group in the area,” Gorden said. Park said that over the past six months, there have been more and more newcomers.
One of those newcomers, Rosemary Highman, recently moved from Colorado to McCandless area and was excited to find a place to play her ukulele with people. Even though it was Highman’s first time there, everyone welcomed her by introducing themselves and even sharing music with her.
“It’s a very low key group. It sort of fits all sizes,” said group member Jan Kielty of Fox Chapel.
Kielty said she enjoys the camaraderie she gets by playing her instrument with the Steel City Ukuleles. The meetings give her a comfortable place to learn new music which is made easy by the way the club functions. After each song, the players stop to discuss different techniques and then try it again in a different way. By doing this, they improve on each song over time.
For Kielty, who hasn’t played an instrument since the piano “a million years ago,” the ukulele is easy.
Plus, she added, “It’s a happy, happy instrument.”
Although there is a set program of music for each meeting, Steel City Ukuleles isn’t just about practicing hard. They also spent plenty of time during their meeting chit chatting about things like their willingness to let Warren Buffet join their circle if he’s ever in town and clever ukulele inspired club names like “uke-anasia” a play off of the word “euthanasia.”
“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have a lot of fun every time,” said Sunny Park, a ukulele enthusiast from Squirrel Hill. Park plays the violin and decided to learn the ukulele by herself since it was easier to pick up than the guitar. That was a year ago. Ever since she has been hooked.
Gorden sums up the group's devotion to the instrument by saying that it's impossible to play the ukulele without cracking a grin.
"There's a lot of smiling faces. It’s hard to be sad and play the ukulele,” Gorden said.