Rosemary Woodel, 82, seems to have boundless creative energy. She’s not only an amateur photographer and videographer but she’s also an enthusiastic event organizer at Wesley Woods Athens where she lives in the Lanier Gardens independent living section.
Just before the pandemic, she and a friend, Marguerite Holmes, went to a weeklong class to learn ukelele at the J.C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Following that they took some lessons locally, but Holmes was realistic, “I’m not going to play unless I have a reason.”
That’s when Woodel decided to organize a group of residents for weekly ukelele practice. Despite the pandemic, or maybe because of it and the enforced solitude, practices grew in popularity. With masks, distancing, and some outdoor sessions, the members got better and more confident. Some members of Woodel’s Unitarian fellowship also joined the Friday practices.
“None of us are going to be solo performers but that’s the beauty of playing with 21 others,” she says. “You can make mistakes. We sing too because if you can’t find the chord, you can always sing!”
Because it’s portable, inexpensive
, and versatile, the ukelele is a perfect musical instrument for non-musicians, particularly for seniors who have some physical impediments.
“A lot of us have arthritis in our fingers so we have to improvise – I can’t play a G chord so I play a G7.” Woodel also has macular degeneration and other members have vision issues too, so she types the lyrics in 16 pt. font size. For some, arthritis in the thumb prevents holding the instrument to the chest so they play it in their lap. Having had six concussions, Woodel hopes it’s helping her brain.
“Having a concert to prepare for is good motivation,” notes Woodel, so they perform regularly for the residents of the Personal Care. Recently, the “Oldies but Goodies” as they’ve named themselves, performed at Historic Athens Porchfest where they raised $650 for Heart Music Athens, a music education nonprofit. See their performance here.
They are preparing now for a concert of funny love songs for Valentine’s Day, using existing melodies but original lyrics.
With 23 members, including two guitar players and two percussionists, including a washtub bass, the group is maxed out due to space limitations at Wesley Woods. Woodel is hoping someone will be inspired to start a community ukelele group such as the Austin Ukelele Society seen on YouTube. She’s willing to advise on the various resources she’s found useful. (firstname.lastname@example.org)