When the Vinton-Shellsburg High School students gather Feb. 28 for their annual Talent Show, they will be hearing from the school’s newest informal group of musicians: The Ukulele Club.

The small, four-stringed instruments which become popular in Hawaii around 1880, have made a resurgence in popular culture. Social media sites featuring uke music have attracted many followers, and the most recent winner of the “America’s Got Talent” TV show is a ukulele-strumming 12-year-old, Grace Vanderwaal. And “Lava,” a ukulele tune about two volcanoes that fall in love, was first previewed on the big screen, as an animated short film before the Pixar movie “Inside Out.”

Recently, a few students were sitting around in Michala Martin’s choir room, taking turns on Sam Schmidt’s uke. Someone suggested starting a Ukulele Club, and soon more than a dozen students had expressed interest. Now there are enough students who are learning the uke that the group can perform in an ensemble during the Talent Show. Martin and the students will be choosing a couple of songs and working on them until Feb. 28. Even though many of them have never played an instrument before, the teacher is confident that they will learn quickly and be ready to perform at the end of next month.

The Ukulele contains four strings, G,C,E and A, Martin told the students as she demonstrated how to strum (not over the sound hole but a few inches away). The musicians will be learning to play both chords and notes, Martin said.

“It truly was a student-led club,” says Martin. The students have begun practicing once or twice per week or so during RTI time at the end of the day, although Martin reminds the students that the ukulele group is a club, which means that if they have any classwork to do during RTI, then that comes first.

The students who gathered on Friday for practice shared a variety of reasons for joining the club. Alicia Morin, who sings at many VS vocal concerts, says she is the only member of her family who does not currently play an instrument, so she joined the club to learn. Owen Sloop said he has tried playing the guitar before and wanted to get back to learning stringed instruments. Lexi Dively told her peers that she bought her uke at West Music, which offered a free lesson to buyers. Jenna Lane says she has had her ukulele since her freshman year and wanted to learn more about playing. Destiny Andrew and Jordan Pattee are among the first-timers who joined the club, hoping to learn more about playing.

History of the Uke

While most Americans know that the ukulele came to the mainland from Hawaii, the true student of uke history knows that the unique instruments came from Madeira, an island chain just off the coast of Portugal, and was imported to Hawaii by traders.

See a story about when and how the ukulele arrived in Hawaii HERE.