Bitten by the ‘uke bug’

Cynthia Davis

PHOTO BY brittany waterstradt

Cynthia Davis first got interested in ukuleles years ago, when her daughter was in a high school “Venturing Crew” through a scouting program. Tonya Dale, a leader of the Paradise Ukelele Group, introduced the Davis family to the Hawaiian stringed instrument. Today, Davis is a head strummer and leader of the Chico Ukelele Group, which performed favorite Christmas songs at Chico’s annual Christmas Preview downtown this past weekend. The group meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at Trinity Methodist Church, 285 E. Fifth St. in Chico, and can be contacted through Facebook. Davis, 56, lives in Paradise, and is the mother of three daughters. For more than 20 years, she has worked at Pine Ridge School as a Title 1 aide. She said she’s even managed to get her boss interested in the ukulele.

What struck you about the ukulele?

I was not musical at all, but I thought they were grand fun, and even figured I could learn to play. That was the beginning. Tonya started the Paradise Ukelele Group, and I’d cover her leadership when she was gone—usually to Hawaii. Through that, I met Bill Unger and his lovely wife, LeeAnna. Bill, being a musician, started a uke group at his house. After a few months, he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. In stepped Allen Hackett and Elisabeth Stewart. They, too—being bitten by the uke bug—didn’t want to see it end, so they procured Trinity Methodist Church as a welcome home for a group, and asked me to lead it. That was more than five years ago. Since then, life, ukuleles and work have taken hold, and kept me busy.

How has the ukulele changed you?

I went from a nonmusic-playing, shy person, to leading a group. I still scratch my head over it. I’ve met so many lovely people. What we all love about it is simple—the ukulele is fun. Having changed my life, the uklele is continuing to change many other people’s lives. It’s easy to learn, fun to play, easy to transport, and the people attracted to it are generous, kind, open and all-around fun.

Are there any prerequisites to joining in?

With Chico Ukulele Group, all that is required is show up, ready to relax, and have good fun. I know it’s not for everyone, but there are 235 people on my email list. There’s nothing that’s required, nor deadlines to meet. Hopefully, everyone who walks in our doors feels wanted and liked. I hope to get people more excited about a very accessible instrument for music. While you don’t need a ukulele the first time or two that you visit, obtaining one is a requirement. Some of our members have extras that they let newbies use, which just reflects how great uke people are.

How do people react when they see the group perform?

Even though performing really isn’t our focus, many people who see us smile and remember when they owned a ukulele. Some people think it’s still the silly little instrument that Tiny Tim made famous. Really, it’s a most versatile instrument. I feel it connects people to music in a very fun way. Life can be so serious, but it’s hard to frown with a uke in hand.