By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Region – A group of friends from several communities enjoy playing ukulele together. The group is known as Uke-A-Rama Llama Ding Dong Day Y’all. As a pandemic safety measure, their weekly meetings moved outdoors to Dean Park in Shrewsbury.
Marty Ayotte of Worcester united these musicians, who hail from Berlin, Holden, Northborough, Oxford, Shrewsbury and Stow. In addition to sharing musical interests, they’re all within the same age range.
“We’re all retired,” Ayotte noted. “Seniors are always looking for something to do that’s not too strenuous and playing the ukulele isn’t strenuous – unless you play the way I do. I like to really get into it and give the uke some hard strums.”
Ayotte’s interest in the ukulele was sparked a few years ago when he played harmonica in the now-disbanded group called Grade “A” Fancy with bandmate Rich Leufstedt. A self-described “ukaholic,” Leufstedt leads the Union Ukulele Club in Worcester. Ayotte attended a couple of the club’s meetings.
“They were pretty far advanced, and at the time, I was too green,” he recounted. “I couldn’t keep up with them, so I went home and started practicing.”
In 2018, Ayotte’s practice time became weekly ukulele meetings at his Worcester home with his friends Anna Connors of Shrewsbury, and Oxford residents Russ Garre and Bill Swift. Each of these friends hadn’t played ukulele before joining the group.
“We’d giggle at each other’s imperfections,” Ayotte acknowledged. “We kept playing and we started sounding better. When you sit down and play music with somebody, you connect with them on a plain that you don’t even know you’re on. The rhythm of the music and biorhythms of your body all connect.”
The attendance of ukulele players steadily grew, averaging from four to 10 per week. They continued meeting at Ayotte’s home until the pandemic stay-at-home advisory took effect in March.
Meetings moved outdoors Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., weather permitting, from midsummer through fall at the Dean Park bandstand in Shrewsbury. From the start of their outdoor meetings, Ayotte decorated the bandstand with festive banners.
“There’s plenty of room on the stage, so it’s easy to keep a distance between each other,” he explained.
Ayotte is grateful that Anna Connors recommended Dean Park for an outdoor meeting place. Around the same time, she began rehearsing there with a belly-dance troupe of seniors known as Silver Moon Gypsies. Connors also suggested the ukulele group’s name: Uke-a-Rama Llama Ding Dong Day Y’all.
“Anna is like a ball of fire,” Ayotte commented. “I might have started putting the group together, but I give Anna so much credit. She’s a great person to have in your social organization. She’s a go-getter.”
On one Thursday with weather forecasts for rainstorms, the group sought shelter at Auburn Mall’s parking garage. It wasn’t quite the same serene environment as Dean Park, Ayotte noted.
“In the garage, it was wicked noisy with the traffic, horns and sirens,” he recalled. “Dean Park has a beautiful breeze that goes through there almost all the time.”
These ukulele-playing friends appreciate their soothing get-togethers amid the sometimes stressful pandemic.
“Ukulele people don’t have a mean streak in their bodies,” Ayotte declared. “Everybody who plays ukulele is laidback and calm. That’s the kind of vibe we have when we get together.”
Anyone who is able to help provide the group an indoor wintertime meeting place large enough for social distancing, can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos/Ed Karvoski Jr.