DuBOIS — The warm and welcoming tones of the ukulele waft through the hallways of DuBois Area Middle School on Tuesday afternoons, fusing with the sound of exuberant instruction and sporadic eruptions of laughter.
“They could be doing anything right now, but they choose to come here and learn to play ukulele,” music and chorus teacher Becky Sensor said of the ukulele ensemble that is 25 strong and continually growing.
Becky and Joe Sensor, the husband and wife team who instruct music and chorus at the middle school, were approached by some students who had ukuleles, were learning from YouTube videos and wanted to start a club.
With a push in music education to incorporate the ukulele into instruction, the duo didn’t pause to jump on the opportunity.
As the middle school’s student population slowly declines year after year, the music program continues to grow.
Becky said this year the middle school band is the biggest it has been in recent history.
The classroom of cooperative and attentive students with colorful ukuleles in hand also points to that trending growth.
“Ukuleles are universal,” Becky said. “I love that they can sing while they play it. And I love that it’s really hard to be in a bad mood when listening to the ukulele. It’s a happy little instrument.”
As the gaggle of middle school students work to learn a new song Tuesday, the 20-some instruments collide to create a sweet and chaotic cacophony.
But shortly after being dropped into a new set of chords with a new rhythm, they start to meld into cohesion. The resulting melody delicately bubbles up and transcends the drama of a day in middle school.
They’re taught the old fashioned way with chords written on poster boards. The two teachers lead group run-throughs and help to answer questions one-on-one.
But the teaching also takes a 21st century approach, with tutorials being played on a large flat screen television and resources and videos being shared online for students to reference at home.
The ukulele ensemble, which only started meeting at the beginning of February, has already learned three songs — “House of Gold” by twenty-one pilots, “Riptide” by Vance Joy, and “Someone to Lava,” from a Pixar short film.
One Republic’s “Counting Stars” is one of the next songs the group has agreed to put on their “to learn” list. And as the ukulele can be found in or adapted for many top 40 songs, that list continues to grow.
See Ukelele, Page A3
“They’re doing great,” Becky said. “It’s a great instrument to pick up on the side because you can take off on it pretty fast. You can see what you’re doing. It’s not very loud so you can practice almost anywhere. It’s a great instrument for this age group.”
Eighth grader Leslie Bonante has been playing ukulele for one year and was one of the group’s first members. Playing the ukulele for fun instead of mastery, she said playing with the group has help her grow.
“I’ve learned how playing with other ukuleles sounds,” said Bonante, who added playing “Riptide” with the group is her favorite.
The group is learning for their own personal enjoyment, but also to perform at the school’s spring concert May 23.
Started as a BYOU (Bring Your Own Ukulele) ensemble, the student-led group has decided to fundraise to purchase several soprano ukuleles to have on-hand for anyone who may want to join but can’t afford their own instrument.
It started a Donor’s Choose fundraising campaign to raise $296 to purchase four ukes. It’s currently reached 25 percent of that goal.
For now, the music department offers newcomers some of the baritone ukuleles it also uses to teach guitar lessons to students with smaller hands or other physical needs that make it too hard to play a full sized guitar.
“Every week there’s new ukuleles. It’s exciting,” Becky says as she tunes a shiny navy blue ukulele for a student.
“Whoever shows up, we’ll find them something to play until they can switch to the ukulele.”
To donate visit www.donorschoose.org, type in “Rebecca Sensor,” and choose the “Ukuleles Are Universal” campaign.