Change the world, ukulele style

Glynis Crawford Smith/The Highlander

A few of the variety of ukuleles available are arrayed in front of four early arrivals at one of the twice-monthly meetings of the Highland Lakes Ukulele Club; seated, Virginia Sivells, and from left, Luis Sirvent, Pat O'Malley, Lisa Miller and Don Crowder. Their motto is: 'Changing The World, Four Strings At A Time.'

By Glynis Crawford Smith

The Highlander

You may think of the ukulele with a smile and memory of Arthur Godfrey (1903-1983), with a groan over “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Tiny Tim (1938-1996) or a mellow sigh at the memory of that 1990 medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World" by “Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (1959 – 1997).

But picture it, now, in your own hands and embrace the motto of the Highland Lakes Ukulele Club: “Changing the world, four strings at a time.”

This band of troubadours meets twice a month to practice together and draw new players into their musical fold.

When Don Crowder, an accomplished musician, began to coax Lisa Miller toward a simple instrument like the ukulele she was dubious.

“Before I could say no, he ordered one for me,” she said. “The premiere benefit of having two people is that you are having a good time.”

It wasn't long into her introduction to the four strings of the instrument before he said, “You need to play with other people, why don't you start a club.”

That is exactly what she did.

“Before the first meeting I practiced every day for 30 days,” she said. “Now, I can't stop.

“If you learn two chords, you can play hundreds of songs; if you learn, three chords, you can play thousands.”

“I brought my granddaughters to a meeting of the club and they are still playing,” said Pat O'Malley.

The girls, age 13 and 16, took their enthusiasm back to Dallas. If they ever want to kick in with a club, it shouldn't be a problem. Ukulele clubs are found around the world from New Zealand to the Arctic Circle.

The instrument, described as coming from the lute family of instruments, is indelibly linked with Hawaii, since it was adapted there from instruments that floated in with 19th Century Portuguese sailors. But, the uke and its kin have been bouncing around the globe since at least the 13th Century. Ukulele adaptations of every kind of music seem irresistible and samples abound online.

The Highland Lakes Ukulele Club has its own online collection so members can practice at home. They range from country and bluegrass to Big Band to rock and folk songs. Chords for standard and baritone instruments are arranged above the lyrics and MP3 recordings are included to play along.

At each meeting, members bring samples of the variations of ukulele so visitors can try one or consider the kind they might like to own.

Just as the ukulele is a few steps to simple side of the lute or the banjo, aspiring string players sometimes find those steps back up the ladder easy to make. The baritone uke is actually more like a guitar, but with four strings. You can think of the uke as a “gateway drug” to a lifetime addiction to making music.

To join the club or sample the fun, attend a meeting. They are held the second Thursday of each month at the Llano Library, 102 East Haynie Street, and the fourth Thursday of each month at the Marble Falls Public Library, 101 Main Street.

“Everyone is welcome to show up a little early,” said Miller. “We start getting together at about 4:30 p.m. for tuning, tutoring and socializing. Then we play from 5:30-7:30 p.m.”

Yes, the group will book a gig and you can ask a question or learn more about the club online at See if there's anything to their motto: Changing The World, Four Strings At A Time.

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