Kevin O’Connor Hosts 40 5th Grade Ukulele Playing Students from Cutler Elementary School in Hamilton
Beverly, MA and Hamilton, Massachusetts-
When The Cabot announced that JAKE SHIMABUKURO would be performing at the almost 100-year-old vaudeville palace (Saturday, October 28 at 8 pm), Cabot Board member Kevin O’Connor, of PBS’s Ask This Old House and This Old Housedecided to sponsor FORTY 5th graders from teacher Melissa Graham’s two classes at the Cutler Elementary School in Hamilton, Massachusetts with free tickets to the concert. Why? Well Graham’s students play ukulele and currently the group is 40 strong! And they are known as String Jam.
Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro has taken the four-string, two-octave instrument to places no one could have imagined back in the golden years of Don Ho, ranging freely across the music spectrum from jazz, blues and funk to bluegrass, classical and folk with the ease of a musician fully in command of the possibilities of his chosen instrument.
Cutler’s 5th Grade teacher Melissa Graham has been teaching ukulele to most of her students for close to 11 years. She is not the music teacher at the school; she simply fell in love with the instrument about 13 years ago, is a dedicated and enthusiastic player and also belongs to the Boston Ukulele Union. One of her previous students was Kevin O’Connor’s son Luke, which is why Kevin decided to put this together for the kids.
“All of the teachers at Cutler Elementary go above and beyond for our kids and Mrs. Graham’s ‘String Jam’ is just one example. We’re very fortunate to have such passionate teachers,” notes Kevin.
The kids who sign up for Mrs. Graham’s ukulele class (this year 40 out of 46 students in two classes) either buy inexpensive instruments for around $35 or use an instrument that has been donated to the school. They get lessons every Friday morning at 7:30 am, before regular classes begin and by the end of the year (sometime in June), the school presents its annual “Ukulele Melee” at the school in collaboration with The Boston Ukulele Unionwhich also runs workshops, jams and sing-a-longs at the afternoon event.
Graham says, “Friday mornings are the highlight of my week. We feel the endorphins kicking in after we play together and we are all really happy and humming for the rest of the day.”
Even though this year’s crop of 40 ukulele playing 10 and 11 year olds have only had a few lessons, they plan on playing a tune for Jake backstage at The Cabot before his show around 6:30 pm!
“They may be just beginning, but they will surely be enthusiastic and they are so very, very excited to see the show and to meet Jake!” says Graham.
Kevin O’Connor and the kids’ parents will be on hand at The Cabot to cheer them on when they play for Jake!
“Mostly the kids play current songs such as ‘Rip Tide,’ ‘Gang of Rhythm’ or ‘I’m On Top of The World.’ However, they do pick some older songs too, like the hilarious ‘Purple People Eater.’ The kids love rock and roll, but they also love “Cotton Eye Joe.” It is all about balance. They pick out many current songs, but I also introduce them to other songs. Then, they tell me whether or not they like the song and want to learn it. We vote. Choice and fun is what motivates them,” Graham continued.
Graham wrote her Masters thesis about this musical experience with the students and says “Informally, it seems to increase the kids’ feelings of empowerment. It’s as if they are thinking, ‘Let’s do a gig or ‘hey, maybe we can be famous!'”
“When we are playing ukulele, we are all working together and listening to one another. I’m able to connect to my students in another way, outside of being their teacher. When you play together, you have to pay attention, focus and listen. We communicate musically. This builds, confidence, community and trust.”
The Jake Shimabukuro show is a part of Fred Taylor’s Jazz & Heritage Series (Fred Taylor will also be at this event) and it’s fully open to the public. The Cabot is located at 286 Cabot Street in Beverly, MA. Tickets ($28.50 – $43.50) are on sale now at TheCabot.org or by calling 866.811.4111.