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Ukulele craze hits beachside village

Bayfield Ukulele Society has 80 members, mostly seniors and beginners. The group is so popular, it outgrew its practice space and became a fire hazard.
Ukulele craze hits beachside village 1:00

The "Bayfield Ukulele Society" started with just one person, pinning posters around the Bayfield, Ont. village claiming to be a society. Four years later, the eighty-person group practices twice a week, performs in nursing homes and keeps growing. 

"If people knew there was no society, they wouldn't come," founder Nancy Moore said, laughing about the memory of those early days.

She's co-leading the group, mostly seniors and beginner ukulele players, strumming and singing songs from the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's.  They're in the basement of St. Andrew's United Church in Bayfield. The group relocated there after growing so big it became a fire hazard at their previous meeting place, Bayfield Library. The group meets twice a week, practicing on Saturdays and holding a jam night on Wednesdays. 

Bayfield Ukulele Society Founder Nancy Moore and President Elise Feltrin lead the jam night at St. Andrew's United Church in Bayfield, Ont.

Moore isn't a trained musician, but loves the ukulele and wanted to share it with others. Four years ago, she was recovering from surgery and under doctor's orders not to lift anything heavy. A ukulele is light, and she'd always wanted to learn. 

Ukulele brings joy 

"There's something about the ukulele that just makes people smile.  I think it's just an instrument that brings joy," said Moore. Those early meetings brought out two or three people. 

Members of the Bayfield Ukulele Society practice twice a week at St. Andrew's Church in Bayfield, after outgrowing their practice space at Bayfield Library. (Allison Devereaux/CBC News)

For Maura O'Reilly, the ukulele society is an opportunity to meet new people. She recently moved to nearby Goderich. 

"I've never been so comfortable in my whole life, with any group," she said. 

"It's given me more confidence, a lot more confidence in just being able to tackle things and say, 'I can do this," said O'Reilly.  

"I get on great," said Maura O'Reilly, of Goderich. She said playing with others boosts her confidence. (Allison Devereaux/CBC News )

"When I started I couldn't play a cord, but everybody accepts you and says come out, it doesn't matter," said Linda VanMar, of Central Huron. She took up the ukulele when she turned 55 and decided she wanted to learn to play an instrument. 

"I've actually learned to not be so hard on yourself," said VanMar, who laughed and strummed with enthusiasm for the 90 minute jam.     

Why it keeps growing 

For a time, the group gathered at a local pub to play, but had to stop inviting friends and family to come out to listen. There wasn't room. 

"We took up the whole pub, just with people playing the ukulele," said Elise Feltrin, the society's president.

The group jumped in size this winter when they started offering beginner's lessons, said Feltrin. 

The ukulele society performs regularly in the area, at retirement homes, opening for concerts at Bayfield Town Hall and busking in front of the library. Performing in public leads to more people joining, said Deb Jackson, the society's event scheduler. 

"They see us playing and they say, these guys are having a lot of fun, and they've got to check it out," said Jackson. 

Ukulele sales boom

Linda VanMar, of Central Huron, turned 55 and wanted to take up an instrument.

The ukulele boom in Bayfield has also boosted sales for a local music shop. 

I sell an ukulele virtually every day," said Jamie Wallace, manager of Ernie King Music in Goderich, 20 kilometres from Bayfield along the shoreline.  He attributes the sales to both the Bayfield Ukulele Society and a general rise in the instrument's popularity. 

"I've had to rearrange the store a few times to make space," he said. Wallace used to carry about a dozen ukuleles at a time, but he now has about sixty in stock.  

Where to go next 

With more people joining the group, Feltrin hopes to one day be a ukulele orchestra. She's aware that practice space could become an issue again. 

"I don't know where we'll go next - the arena or something"  Feltrin laughed. 

"It's fun, it's exciting, it's very satisfying" said Moore, who watched her idea grow from a simple poster advertising a ukulele "society," to a vibrant group filling her village with music.  

"The poster is now legit," she said.