Story and Photos by Laura Kepner
. . .
Playing Ukes on the Portico
at the Safety Harbor Library
. . .
My grandparents lived in Denver in a white house with red shutters. A narrow path was shoveled from the sidewalk to their door in winters and a metal porch glider creaked in rhythm to the slow, hot days of summer — usually the place where my memories return. I’d sit in the backyard apple tree full of caterpillars while their screened front door shared the sounds of favorite records, many of which were reminiscent of a vacation in Hawai’i. Grandma loved the ukulele.
All these years later, a love for the instrument has gained new popularity. Saturday, August 27 was Play Music on the Porch Day and the Safety Harbor Library hosted the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society. I watched uke-carrying men and women set up chairs and chat with fellow musicians in the shadiest spots of the library’s portico. Most appeared of retirement age, but not all – a seven-year-old joined in with his shiny new ukulele, eager to play.
. . .
Play Music on the Porch Day is an annual event on the last Saturday in August. The idea started with Brian Mallman who created the hashtag #playmusicontheporchday to unite the world through a universal, connective act — playing and listening to music outdoors, sharing in the enjoyment.
Their website reads – “What if for one day, everything stopped? And we all just listened to the music.”
The group tuned instruments as Emily Lee Stehle, a mixed media artist who’s also a leader in the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society, faced ready sheet music and a microphone near the library’s entrance. She’s won awards and has received wide acclaim for her basket weaving and fiber arts but on Saturday, it was all about making music.
“I started doing paper weaving and playing around the same time,” she says. “Both were around five or six years ago. I took beginner ukulele workshops at the library. I learned from people and I went to festivals.”
Now, she’s giving the lessons. “We are all volunteers for the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society. We do the beginner workshops.”
. . .
Stehle and several other volunteers host a monthly jam, which they started because finding places to play with others is difficult for beginners. There aren’t many other opportunities.
“The jam-along started in May with 24 players and we had 45 last month,” she says. “It’s fun for all of us. It’s structured but not structured. The most important thing is having your ukulele in tune.“
Around 30 players shared the available shade and took turns filling cups with iced tea. The heat didn’t seem to affect anyone too much. “It’s fun and it’s easy,” Stehle says. “When you play any kind of music it makes you happy. You just have to practice.”
. . .
The Tampa Bay Ukulele Society has provided every Pinellas County Public Library branch with ukuleles any Pinellas resident can borrow. Lessons are free along with plenty of encouragement.
Upcoming events at the Safety Harbor Library include a Ukulele Sing-Along in the Park on Saturday, September 10 from 10:30-11 a.m. and Tampa Bay Ukulele Society Jam Night on Wednesday, September 21 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Events are posted on their Meetup group page.
As the ukes started playing, a local woman arrived with her daughter and 15-month-old granddaughter. The toddler faced the musicians and began to dance as her mom and grandmother watched, smiling.
I couldn’t help but realize that I am about the age my own grandmother was when ukulele music became background sounds on our own hot summer days.
She would have loved this.
Check out a Ukulele and Instructions
at your local Pinellas County Public Library