Sunday, November 27, 2022

Ukuleles for all at Kingsbury-Fort Edward Senior Center

By Jason Irwin, Chronicle Freelance

I stopped by the Senior Center of Kingsbury-Fort Edward on Oak Street last Tuesday morning, May 10. I had received a tip that something pretty interesting was going on there.

Intrigued as to why I was sent on this assignment, and knowing I primarily report on the music scene, I immediately found the answer when I entered a downstairs room filled with musical instruments — and musicians.

It turns out that the Executive Director is Max McDonnell, who is also a local musician I have known for years.

Max leads a group of seniors in a weekly ukulele club, where any musicians of any skill level are invited to learn, play and sing along.

They call themselves “Ukulele Orchestra” or “Seniors Making Music.” Their motto is “Music played by seniors for seniors.”

Ukes for all — Max McDonnell leads the Ukulele Orchestra of Kingsbury-Fort Edward Senior Center. Photo provided

They began in the Summer of 2019, but after an initial short run took a long break due to the pandemic, and now they say are glad to be back in action.

They don’t just “jam” at the Center, either: They perform live at several suitable senior-centric locations, including The Oaks at Fort Hudson and The Glen at Hiland Meadows, and well as at the Little Theater on the Farm in Fort Edward.

They are next scheduled to play on Thursday, June 2, at the Glens Falls Senior Center.

It’s a fun, lighthearted group, with jokes and laughter just as prevalent as the music. That day’s song list included “This Land is Your Land,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Sweet Caroline” (I was invited to provide some backup vocals on this one) and “Amazing Grace.”

Writer is eligible to join, too

My favorite was their version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” – I just love that song. At one point mid-session, the group became aware that I had just turned 50 a few days before, so I was treated to a heartfelt “Happy Birthday.”

I also learned that I am now eligible to join the center. Fifty is the minimum qualifying age.

Mr. McDonnell is not only a great musician — but he’s the perfect teacher who operates at a pace that anyone can keep up with. I even picked up a few tips myself in the short time I was there. Thanks, Max!.

The ukuleles were donated by a generous member of the center, Max said. They are joined by a few auxiliary instruments including a keyboard player, and harmonica played by seasoned musician Bud Ellsworth.

I spotted an acquaintance of mine in the group, Sandy Wheeler. She is also a well-known, talented actress. I was pleased to share some conversation with her.

The group was a little light on attendance that particular week. I was promised even more diversity the next time I see them.

The group’s very well-known drummer — Terry McGeoch was one member I was sorry to have missed that day.

I asked group members Bob and Milly Gordon of Hudson Falls, what they liked about being part of the Tuesday morning club.

Mrs. Gordon had the only response that matters: “It really just brings joy to our hearts — and joy to others.”

I did get an answer to the question that both myself and my editor, Cathy DeDe, really wanted to know: Why the Ukulele?

Max smiled and said he wanted to share a quote from The Beatles’ George Harrison with me: “Everyone should have and play a UKE — it’s so simple to carry with you, and it’s the one instrument you can’t play and not laugh.” Well said.

Get more information on the Kingsbury-Fort Edward Senior Center, the Ukulele Orchestra and more activities on the Center’s Facebook page or on their website: seniorcenterkfe.com.

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