The ukulele is enjoying a moment.
Popularity of the little instrument has ebbed and flowed over the past century and is currently on the upswing. The National Association of Music Merchants reported a 54 percent jump in ukulele sales in 2013, according to The Atlantic. Not coincidentally, ukuleles began their invasion of Mount Airy on June 25 of that year.
Mount Airy Ukulele Invasion, better known as MAUI, winds up its 15th quarterly session tonight led by composer, arranger and instructor George Smith in a unique group music class held in the lesson studio of Olde Mill Music.
Smith’s wife, Gin, and their friend Grace Kish, originally had the idea of starting a ukulele class simply as a good reason to get together to play. With a little persistence, Smith was convinced to buy a ukulele and start a class. “I bought my first ukulele about six weeks before the first MAUI class started,” said Smith. “I remembered thinking how I would be happy if six people joined up. Seventeen people came to be a part of the first class.”
“I try to choose songs that are simple enough for absolute beginners of any age, but can challenge more advanced players, too,” said Smith. “I also try to pick songs from various decades and genres. We may play anything from Pink Floyd to Pasty Cline to Twenty One Pilots to original music.”
Fifteen sessions later, tonight’s performance will likely be the largest yet, with nearly 50 people signed up for the course.
MAUI has become more like a community through the quarterly class sessions. “Many people keep coming back giving the group a great, core foundation,” says Smith. “It’s such a positive, encouraging environment.”
Smith often asks the members to sing, and sometimes play light percussion or experiment with effects on amplified ukuleles. “I love to see people try something new. It’s amazing how one little addition can affect and shape the sound of the whole.”
Smith has also started a scholarship fund to give more opportunities for selected new members to join. “It started with printing up some tee-shirts, a few private donations and is now also funded by MAUI performances,” said Smith. For those awarded, the scholarship covers the cost of the class and sometimes includes a ukulele and accessories. “This is a great way to pay it forward. I have so much to be grateful for and hope and believe that this helps create new ripples of good.”
On the Tuesday following the eight-week class, students perform a concert to celebrate their hard work. Their fifteenth, and largest concert will be tonight with a show at Old North State Winery, 308 N. Main Street, Mount Airy. The performance will be at 7 p.m. It is open to all ages and admission is free.
The next MAUI class begins Tuesday, Sept. 5 from 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. and/or Saturday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. The cost is $80 for each person. For more information, call George Smith at 336-648-0136 or email to [email protected]