WALLA WALLA — In case you haven’t heard, the ukulele has been experiencing a bit of a revival for at least a decade now.
The growing popularity of the small, four-string guitar resounded at the Carnegie Center on Monday night as 10 students participated in a Department of Parks and Recreation ukulele class.
“I just like the sound of them. It’s just that kind of clinky sound that is kind of neat,” Susan Bauer said.
The Garrison Middle School teacher was attempting to learn the instrument that is know for its mellow sound and, more technically speaking, unusual tuning in which the top, fourth string of G is tuned a harmonic fifth higher than the third string of C.
Add to this tuning the softer plucking of nylon strings and the result is a warm, almost harp-like sound that is irresistible, but was also hardly heard in modern music for about two decades.
Developed sometime around the 1880s when Portuguese immigrants introduced their smaller guitars to the Hawaiian Islands, the ukulele quickly spread to the mainland, where it would maintain a high level of popularity for roughly eight decades.
Then in the 1970s and 1980s the instrument was seldom heard on pop radio, but a comeback would start around the 1990s. The instrument is still heard today in hits like Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” or Taylor Swift’s “Stay Stay Stay.”
Ukuleles have also become popular with classical musicians, and there is even a Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain that recently played at Carnegie Hall.
It is hard to say when the instrument made its comeback, but few would argue that the man who helped most to bring back the ukulele to modern music was a Hawaiian named Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
“Iz was great,” Glen Savage said, as he sat in the Monday night class, which was his second session.
Kamakawiwo’ole, Iz for short, is the performer who introduced the world to a single arrangement of two songs: “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” After its release, the version became a hit and was commonly heard in commercials and movies.
But Iz isn’t the only reason Monday’s ukulele class was maxed out.
For Bauer, the uke has been an instrument she has wanted play since she was a teen.
“I am 63. I was 18 then. So I just though why not,” Bauer said, adding she will share the experience with her students. “I will take it to school and play it for them, and show them the whole thing about life-long learning.”
Another reason the instrument is doing so well is those warm soft notes go well with just about any voice, instructor Roy Anderson said.
“There is something about a human playing his own instrument and singing to his own playing,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who has played the guitars for years, took up ukulele recently because his grandchildren showed an interest and he wanted to be able to play with them.
Savage, who is now taking his second class from Anderson, added the ukulele is a relatively easy instrument to learn.
“That is the nice thing about it is that it doesn’t take that long before you make it sound great,” he said.
About the only difficult part might be trying to enroll in Anderson’s class.
The cost for the class is $40 for eight one-hour classes held once a week. If there is enough interest, Anderson said he will consider adding a second class.
To learn more about ukulele classes at the Carnegie Center, call Parks and Rec at 527-4527.