<
2
3
>

A group of Monroe residents are trying to build a big following for a little instrument.

Michelle Hoch and a few fellow ukulele players started up the Sky River Strummers last fall. After meeting regularly for about eight months, they are ready to grow their membership, hopefully with a crowd as passionate about strings as they are.

Hoch said she formed the band to serve many purposes. First and foremost is for people to come and find some pleasure, she said.

“It is really about the joy of playing,” said Hoch’s fellow member Katie Kent. “It’s not a high-pressure thing.”

Both women picked up the ukulele about seven years ago. Kent was looking to add another stringed instrument to her arsenal; she’s dabbled in others throughout the years, but this product stood out for its simplicity.

The ukulele is one of instant gratification, said Kent and Hoch. A player can knock out a tune the first day they pick it up. The frets are not too far apart, and the four strings make creating chord shapes an easy task, they say. It is also extremely portable and inexpensive.

For Hoch, the instrument has become a big part of her life. She said it was something she was able to lean on through a tough time in her life a few years ago, and has become a part of her daily routine. Although, she would say her approach is never too technical.

Hoch said for her it has always been about fulfillment. She prefers not to play when practicing becomes too regimented, which is also the atmosphere the women try to recreate with the Sky River Strummers. Gatherings tend not to get too get too far into the weeds with theory, and tunes are taken at a pace conducive to beginners and seasoned performers, they said.

Hoch said she wants part of her role to be making the instrument more accessible to others. She is willing to offer free lessons, and hopes to dispel any myths that might act as a barrier to entry. That includes style and song choice.

Both Kent and Hoch say they have seen the ukulele become more popular in recent years. There is an international community of strummers that are very passionate about the diminutive device, and that have helped elevate what can be played on the instrument through personal experimentation, Hoch said.

The ukulele has even made it into mainstream tunes, including Vance Joy’s “Riptide” most recently, Kent said. Overall, it is becoming more respected, she said.

Group members have also found the ukulele has proven itself to be quite versatile.

“One of my favorite songs to play is Radiohead’s ‘Creep,’ ” Kent said.

The two women have discovered they enjoy harmonizing together, with Kent on tenor and Hoch on a baritone ukulele. The group setting gives them the chance to be creative and create within a community. They also added it can be a vulnerable position for some people, but no one will be pushed beyond their comfort zone.

While the Strummers meet at the Monroe Congregational Church’s fellowship hall at 301 S. Lewis St. in Monroe, they are open to any affiliation, and the group is secular, said Kent and Hoch. Any genre and style is wanted and welcome, they said.

“Play whatever makes your heart soar,” Kent said.

In an effort to get the word out about the instrument and Sky River Strummers, Hoch has organized an upcoming concert and workshop hosted by internationally known ukulele player, Danielle Anderson. Also known as ‘Danielle Ate the Sandwich,’ she originally made a name for herself on YouTube, and has opened for Mumford and Sons, among other well-known bands.

The course will start at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 20, at the Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, followed by a 7 p.m. performance.

Tickets can be purchased at danielleatethesandwich.com. The Sky River Strummers also had a booth at Monroe’s Farm to Table Farmer’s Market, which had its opening day on Wednesday, June 28, at Lake Tye Park. Hoch had different instruments on hand for people to try out.