The Times-Tribune

UKES UNLEASHED

Local musician starts Kennedy Creek Strummers, which attracted group of ukulele players from throughout the area.

- CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, is asking for a ukulele. Contact the writer: kellysworl­d@timesshamr­ock.com, @cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at blogs.thetimes-tribune.com/ kelly.

A group of ukulele players, members of Kennedcy Creek Strummers, practice a holiday song at the Waverly Community House. At top, Suzy Mooney of Clarks Summit strums her ukulele.

Some gifts really do keep giving. Steve Kurilla never asked for a ukulele. He’s a percussion­ist. Rum-pa-pumpum.

But there it was under the tree three Christmase­s ago, a new instrument to explore and master. A music teacher at Howard Gardner Multiple Intelligen­ce Charter School in Scranton, Steve fell in love with the Hawaiian music staple with a name that translates to “jumping flea.”

Once associated with ’60s comedian Tiny Tim’s falsetto turn on “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” the ukulele has enjoyed a recent resurgence with popular songs such as the late Hawaiian superstar Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World,” which has been used in movies, on television and in commercial­s.

“It’s a wonderful instrument,” Steve said. “It’s relatively inexpensiv­e and easy to play. It’s really beginnerfr­iendly.”

Steve, 39, of North Abington Twp., was so inspired by the ukulele’s accessibil­ity, he started the Facebook group Kennedy Creek Strummers about two years ago.

“I wanted to give people an opportunit­y to make music,” he said. “I wanted to share that experience with people who love music but had never played a musical instrument.”

The response was immediate. Steve’s parents, Patricia, 60, and Steve Sr., 65, were among the first to join. Today, 20 people belong to the group, which meets weekly in a room at the Waverly Community House

to practice, play and enjoy each other’s company.

On a recent Tuesday, snow slicked the roads and caused accidents across the region, but nine strummers showed up. Plucking bright chords smoothed by the room’s soft light, they practiced holiday standards like “Away in a Manger” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The encore was a rousing rendition of The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”

In a Gilded Age space built for black-tie balls and chamber music, a handful of regular folk in sweaters and snow boots shared the gift of music. Every note resonated with joy.

“It’s a happy instrument — no experience necessary,” said Olapeju Simoyan, 49, of Throop. A faculty physician at the Commonweal­th Medical College, she said members of the group share a strong community spirit that stretches

beyond strumming.

The next morning, Steve and his merry band entertaine­d a crowd of about 50 veterans at a Christmas party at the Geno J. Merli Veterans Center in Scranton. They were the background music during dinner, but after dessert, they put a bright, red ribbon on the event.

“Some of them were dancing and singing along,” Steve said. “They had a great time, and so did we. We really enjoy making music together, and it’s great to share it with other people.”

Steve Kurilla never asked for a ukulele, but there it was, under the tree...

 ?? BUTCH COMEGYS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ??
BUTCH COMEGYS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER
 ?? BUTCH COMEGYS STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Ukulele player Stephanie Westgate of Thompson pauses between songs at Steve Kurilla of North Abington Twp. instructs his ukulele group while they play a holiday tune at the Waverly Community House.
BUTCH COMEGYS STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Ukulele player Stephanie Westgate of Thompson pauses between songs at Steve Kurilla of North Abington Twp. instructs his ukulele group while they play a holiday tune at the Waverly Community House.
 ?? BUTCH COMEGYS STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Olapeju Simoyan, M.D., of Throop, plays a holiday tune on her ukulele at Waverly Community House.
BUTCH COMEGYS STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Olapeju Simoyan, M.D., of Throop, plays a holiday tune on her ukulele at Waverly Community House.
 ?? BUTCH COMEGYS STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ??
BUTCH COMEGYS STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER
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 ??  ?? CHRIS KELLY Kelly’s World
CHRIS KELLY Kelly’s World

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