Saskatoon seniors find and spread the joy of the ukulele
Glowing Embers ukulele band spreads joy at Bethany Manor and beyond
Every Tuesday, a group of older adults from Saskatoon's Bethany Manor gather to practice the ukulele together. For some, it's the highlight of the week.
The group was formed in 2012 by Margaret Mair, a resident of the assisted living community. She saw a documentary on the CBC about the ukulele and decided she wanted to learn how to play.
At the time, Mair had heart problems. She was about to go for surgery when she told her doctor about her goal to play a new instrument.
"I said, 'Be sure and do a good job, because I still want to learn to play the ukulele,' because I wasn't sure I'd survive," she recalled.
Mair recovered. And in came music teacher Russ Regier. Regier offered to teach her if she could round-up a group of seniors who wanted to learn to play.
Two years later, more than 20 people — residents and non-residents alike — with an average age of 85 are playing in the band known as The Glowing Embers.
For Rex Benning, the band's percussionist, The Glowing Embers is the best part of his week.
"You can take all the medications you want, but none of it is going to do half as much good as what Russ can do with the music and let the seniors, just let the music flow out of them. It's worth it's weight in gold."
Benning said Regier's leadership and teaching style helps them feel at ease as some of the band members pick up the instrument for the first time.
"Mistakes? You almost enjoy making the mistakes, because you just feel, well, by gosh I'm learning something, I'm improving," Benning said. "You let that music that's in you just flow out and if it doesn't come out right the first time, do it the second time, and before you know it you're all playing together just as a harmonious group."
You let that music that's in you just flow out and if it doesn't come out right the first time, do it the second time, and before you know it you're all playing together just as a harmonious group- Rex Benning, member of the Glowing Embers
Beyond Bethany Manor
While most of the band members live at Bethany Manor, some don't live onsite.
Evelyn Roden started playing with the group about a year ago. She was at the manor on other business when she heard the residents rehearsing.
"I thought, 'Yes, I'd like to do that!' " she said. "It's really fun to make music together. Somehow that connects us."
When the band isn't practicing at Bethany Manor, they play concerts to try to spread their joy and love of music a little further.
They recently played at a nursing home where they took some requests and played songs that resonated with the crowd.
As for Margaret Mair, even though she's the founding member, she said she hasn't played her ukulele recently. She said she suffers from arthritis in her hands.
"I'm going to get back at it once I get my medication sorted out, but it takes so long to get an appointment," she said. "I wouldn't want to live without music."