Trig Renaas

Plucky ukulele players strike a chord with audience

Ukelele renaissance begins in Oak Bay

The ukulele is hugely popular in its native Hawaii but its popularity has seen a North American resurgence, including here in Oak Bay.

Trig Renaas started playing the ukulele 10 years ago after seeing an ad for lessons at a Victoria music school.

“I was getting close to retirement age at that time and I thought it would be nice to learn something new,” Renaas said. “I decided to take this up and one thing led to another.”

Renaas joined a ukulele circle that met weekly at Esquimalt Recreation Centre, but when that group discontinued, he joined the Monterey Centre’s ukulele club, where he currently holds the president and music director positions.

The club has existed for about 30 years and meets every Monday afternoon, averaging 45 ukulele players each week. The players range from beginner to expert and while no audition is required to join, the club does not teach people how to play.

“Our policy is to provide an environment where people can enjoy themselves, playing and singing,” Renaas said. “It’s a very social club.”

The club also does performances with a music list spanning from Hawaiian to country, to oldies. They even have a few members who can hula dance.

Renaas has seen membership grow from 30 to the current 70 and sees a new face dropping in every week. He thinks the ukulele’s popularity is due to its size and ease.

“Playing chords and making a melody is less complicated than with a guitar,” Renaas said. “With less strings, there is less to think about.”

A regular ukulele has four strings compared to a guitar’s six.

The ukulele originated in the 19th century in Hawaii and is a variation of the Portuguese instrument, machete de braca, which has four metal strings. The instrument became popular during the jazz age in the 1920s and again in the 1940s, when cheap plastic ukuleles were manufactured in the millions and musician Tiny Tim became a household name. The most recent resurgence started in the 1990s as a new generation of Hawaiian musicians started taking up the instrument.

Molly Raher-Newman teaches ukulele and performs in the Mighty Little Uke Band, which played at the Blethering Place for 11 years, attracting up to 80 people. The band has returned to the same locale, which is now Oaks Restaurant and Tea Room, and is hosting an open ukulele jam night on the third Wednesday of each month.

“The ukulele is experiencing a huge wave in popularity,” Raher-Newman said. “It’s the easiest instrument to play.

“You just need to learn a few chords and you can start.”

The Monterey Ukulele Club meets on Mondays at 1 p.m.  For more information about the jam night, call 250-590-3155.

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