However provincial we might seem, however isolated and bait-your-own-hook basic, the Island serves up an impressive buffet of off-season leisure time offerings. Sample. Nibble. Devour. The Vineyard makes it easy. You’re not defining yourself — you’re just embellishing.
There is the usual menu of discussion groups, book clubs, films, a community chorus and classes in journaling, ethnic cooking and all manner of arts and fibers. However well you know yourself, you can still be surprised. Try figure skating, ballroom dancing or any form of exercise. There’s more: Tai Chi, Bikram yoga, herbal healing, papermaking or meditation and Dharma teachings at the Bodhi Path Center.
But with all this, it still comes with a slight but happy pause to discover the buffet includes dessert — the chance to take group lessons on the ukulele. The Uke Jam meets at Featherstone Center for the Arts. The Princess PooPooly Ukulele Band (named after the 1940 song, “Princess Poo-Pooly Has Plenty Papaya”) meets weekly at The Tisbury Senior Center.
It’s 1 p.m. on Wednesday, and whether motivated by talent or whim, about 15 all-ages, all-styles Islanders quietly take seats around the table that fills the activities room at Tisbury Senior Center. Cordial, but without much small talk. Everybody is relaxed, tuning up (most with small digital tuners), strumming, humming, looking over sheet music on table music stands. Then Martha Child — who with Sally Flood co-founded The Princess PooPooly Ukulele Band in 2011 — starts to strum. And it begins with Albuquerque Turkey (to the tune of Darling Clementine).
“Albuquerque is a turkey, And he’s feathered and he’s fine. And he wobbles, and he gobbles, And he’s absolutely mine.”
The ukulele (“jumping flea” in Hawaiian) is a small friendly guitar-like instrument derived from a similar instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century. And you get to tuck it under your arm, cradle it, pick or strum its nylon strings and sing as loudly as suits you. It’s unselfconscious and happy — the perfect accompaniment for singing along.
You just sit down and begin. Four strings. Learn six chords and play 100 songs. Ms. Child offers sheet music, suggestions and support, but on this afternoon everyone is self-sufficient and the music simply flows on.
One after another for the next two hours it’s classic old songs strummed and sung.
That’s Amore. Everyone is immediately invested, staring at the sheet music that comes with chord changes printed over the notes. Sentimental Journey. Feet tap in time under the table. I’m Always Chasing Rainbows. Like the strumming, some voices are strong and practiced; others are soft and more tentative. Baby Face. No chitchat between selections, just broad smiles. Side by Side. People are in earnest, contributing whatever they want and whatever they can. Tennessee Waltz.
There are those who seem so engrossed in chords and strumming they forget to sing, while for some others the reverse happens. Each player, however conscious of the group, seems absorbed in his and her own contribution. It becomes personal. Still, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Beginners are carried along, and the result is strong and lively.
Tumbling Tumble Weed. Shine on Harvest Moon.
“Oh, it’s so polished,” someone says, with only a hint of good-natured sarcasm. Sunny Side of the Street.
Ms. Child, musical director at First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven, offers no criticism, just a point of information every so often. She lets everyone know that the “little triplet markings” on the sheet music mean, “stretch it out.”
Christmas carols, Hawaiian songs and mellow old standards. Swaying to and fro, tapping feet and bobbing knees, up and down keeping time. Here and there a gently played bongo drum, an intermittent recorder, sometimes a tambourine or a Melodica. At one point, kazoos are passed around.
Someone says, “We’re preparing for our first album,” The group chuckles, and Ms. Child lightly calls out, Blue Skies.
The Princess PooPooly Ukulele Band practices every Wednesday, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Tisbury Senior Center. They perform monthly at Windemere and when invited, occasional concerts at other venues. Everyone is welcome to join free of charge. Call 508-696-4205.