Strumming Circle

March 21, 2018 at 2:40 pm Leave a comment


The “Club Hopping” feature in our March/April issue offers a brief glimpse inside the Penn State Ukulele Club. But a 75-word short didn’t seem to do it justice.

In this video, you see the club in action—well, in practice, which the club holds every Thursday night in 301 Boucke. It’s open to everyone—students, faculty, and staff—from seasoned pros to anyone who has never picked up the instrument . Just ask Micah Kress ’12, an IT administrator in the College of Science, who found a ukulele in the street one summer and then just so happened to poke his head into the classroom last winter upon hearing the gentle strumming sounds in the Boucke hallways. “I asked, ‘Hey, is this a club or a class?’” he recalls. “They said it’s a club, it meets this time every week; I said, ‘Alright, I’ll see ya next week. When I left I heard them all cheer, and someone said, ‘We got one!’”

It turned out to be a great decision, too. “They helped me push myself,” he says. “I probably wouldn’t have made as much progress if I hadn’t. I wish I had joined when I was an undergrad.”

The main draw of the club is the instrument itself: It’s easy to learn, and it’s fun to play. With just four string, the chords are simpler than a six-string guitar, and all the notes are of a higher pitch, which makes the sound gentler and more pleasant. After all, the instrument is probably most closely associated with a light island breeze on a Pacific Isle beach with a piña colada nearby.

When they’re not in the classroom, members of the club can sometimes be found just playing in a quad or vacant lawn space. But they also get gigs, like playing at THON and other campus events. “Basically, the core of it all is to just have fun, hang out, and play the ukulele,” says Nick Pugliesi, vice president of PSUkulele. “We do do a little bit of learning, like understanding the chords, but we mostly just want to have fun.” (You’ll see Pugliesi at the lectern in the video above.)

The club, founded in 2014, currently boasts about 30 members, most of whom happened across the club via word of mouth or at the annual Student Involvement Fair. Carly Danielson, a junior from Pittsburgh, sought out the club after having picked up the instrument the summer before coming to school. “I always thought they were a really interesting instrument,” she says. “I love music, but I can’t really play anything that well. I wanted to pick up something and ukulele just seemed like a really good thing.”

That feeling of happiness inspired by the ukulele is another big draw. “It feels happy when you play it,” says Madison Schrenk, a freshman majoring in secondary education. “Different instruments evoke really different feelings, and the strings of the ukulele—it’s lighter and bouncier than a lot of things.”

“I’d say the ukulele is the instrument of peace,” Pugliesi adds. “It’s really soft and just relaxing. And it does boost morale. “It brightens up my mood. When I’m stressed out, I just take a step back and ukulele is what I play.”

—B.J. Reyes, associate editor

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