Strathmore virtually hosts 13th annual Uke Fest

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Uke Fest at Strathmore (Part 1)

Have you always wanted to learn an instrument? Here’s a perfect chance.

Strathmore virtually hosts its 13th annual Uke Fest from Friday through Tuesday.

“I was hoping for in person … but it just seemed like the safest option given our student population,” Director of Education Lauren Campbell told WTOP. “In the summer we thought maybe we should have done it in person, but now we’re feeling really vindicated that we’re sticking to virtual and we’ve gotten great feedback about doing it virtual, so it’ll be really fun.”

Artistic Directors Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer will lead a global team of expert instructors, including Diane Nalini, from Ottawa, Canada, whom Fink called “a gorgeous jazz singer and fabulous ukulele player who plays everything from jazz to bossa nova. Peter Luongo, who Fink says has taught some of the world’s best players, will teach from British Columbia; Kevin Carroll, from Austin, Texas, will teach Celtic, rock ‘n roll and African ukulele. Other teachers will include Aline Kelly will teach from Brazil. and Robyn Kneubuhl and Ginger Johnson, two of the Hula Honeys, from Hawaii.

The global instruction is one of the benefits of a virtual festival.

“We probably wouldn’t have a budget to fly all these people in, but the virtual world is an equalizer,” Fink said.

It’s Strathmore’s fourth virtual ukulele event, and Fink said “I feel like we’ve really gained a lot of comfort level and expertise in the big challenge of not only playing and teaching music, but building a community in this awkward online world. The sky is the limit for how many people can sign up.”

Attendance costs $225 for the weekend; registration closes Friday at noon. Tuition assistance and scholarships are available.

“We know that some people are still out of work, working less or don’t have the same income,” Fink said. “We’re really dedicated to making this as accessible as possible. We’ve also had students contribute extra to help make up for that.”

Classes range from “confident beginners” who know a few basic chords, to advanced students with more experience. The event includes two days (four hours) of skill-based classes and four days (six hours) of 26 choice classes. There’s also a jam session, open mic and faculty concert.

If you’re new to the instrument, that’s fine too. Fink recommended two of the event’s sponsors — Middle C Music, in D.C., and The House of Musical Traditions, in Takoma Park, Maryland. “They have staff people who know ukuleles. All you have to do is walk in. … Find yourself the uke of your dreams at the budget of your availability.”

What is it about the ukulele?

“The size, the portability, the beautiful sound,” Fink said. “It is one of the world’s most social instruments … where you can get total beginners and advanced players together in a big, fat circle and they will all have fun playing together. You can strum three chords and learn 500 songs, or you can become a virtuoso and play Bach, rock ‘n roll or pop.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Uke Fest at Strathmore (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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