Central Oregon

Ukuleles striking a chord on High Desert

Sales have spiked nationally; more C.O. schools use them in class

Ukulele craze hits the High Desert

BEND, Ore. - Some call it the place to be on Tuesday nights.

"You're just going to walk away with a smile," said Anne Howard.

Meet the Bend Ukulele Group, also known as BUG. What started four years ago with just four people playing along in a living room has completely transformed and expanded.

"We went to Cascade Brewery and we outgrew that. Then we went to Broken Top Bottle Shop and outgrew that, and now we are here at Kelly D's in Bend and on a good night there's about 85-90 of us," said Howard, one of the group's original organizers.

Ninety ukulele enthusiasts, singing and strumming.

"I just think, 'Wow, look at this. Out of four people and now this, and we're growing,'" Howard said.

Between 2010 and 2012, ukulele sales nearly doubled across the U.S., jumping from 581,000 to more than 1 million, according to the National Association of Music Merchants.

With its small size and only four strings, compared to a guitar's six, ukuleles are even more attractive to kids.

"This is wonderful, to put a tool in their hands. Sometimes they don't get the ideas that are out there, but you put something in their hands and they go, 'Oh, I get this!'" said Nancy Milliron, the music teacher at Juniper Elementary.

Over the past year and a half, BUG has donated 80 ukuleles to four different  schools.

The goal? To get at least 40 into the school systems each year.

"It's getting back into the schools, where music should be," Howard said.

At Outdoor Ukulele in Bend, owner Scott Seelye has also donated his plastic, U.S.-made ukuleles to local schools.

"You don't envision these kids playing the recorder when they grow up. They want to play the guitar, so it's a much better transition," Seelye said.

And if you think "ukes" are just another trend, that's bound to fade out? Not so fast.

"I haven't seen anything that says it's slowing down any time soon," Seelye said.

"It's a revolution, it's fun, it's a happy instrument," Howard said.

BUG has a goal of raising $2,000 to put back into the schools.

For more info, visit bendukulelegroup.org or outdoorukulele.com

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