All Together Now, Learning the Ukulele

Barbara Raeder, center, with students at her first ukulele class, held at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church on Tuesday. Christopher Walsh

The unexpected delight that comes from strumming a ukulele has to be experienced to be understood. Equally surprising, perhaps, is the existence, as of Tuesday, of a free ukulele class for beginners at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Barbara Raeder, who lives in Wainscott, led an enthusiastic inaugural class, who learned their first chords on the four-stringed, portable, and inexpensive instrument, and even played and sang a song. Lessons will continue through August.

Ms. Raeder plays with the Seaside Strummers, a group of seven women, six of whom play the ukulele, or uke. “We have formed a little band and we play for local senior citizens centers,” she said. “We play different seasonal music; we have different repertoires.”

These lessons, she said, are about “getting a part of the community interested in something that is very fun!” The ukulele, she said, “lends itself to being part of a social group.”

The group lessons were also made possible by a grant procured by David Cataletto, who teaches at the John M. Marshall Elementary School in East Hampton, to buy ukuleles for his third-grade class.

“He’s off for the summer,” said Jane Hastay, a musician who lives in Springs and is the church’s music director. “We had some music on the porch of the church a few Sundays ago, after coffee hour,” she said. “There were several people in the audience who said, ‘That looks like fun, I’d like to learn.’ I talked to Barbara and she said she would teach a class.”

Ms. Raeder, who attended college on a music scholarship and played the bassoon in orchestras for many years, took up the ukulele a few years ago, after a friend returned from Hawaii with a small instrument (the uke comes in several variations, including soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, and bass). As it happened, there was a ukulele in Ms. Raeder’s closet as well. “We’d played music together,” she recalled, “and she said, ‘Let’s start doing this.’ ”

For the novice, learning to play the ukulele might appear to be simple. “I think that like any other instrument, you can play it,” Ms. Raeder said, “but if you want to play it well you have to practice every day, even if it’s 10 minutes to begin with, to get comfortable.”

Though it is generally associated with Hawaii, the instrument’s origins lie in Portugal, Ms. Raeder said. It is a Hawaiian adaptation of the machete, a small stringed instrument from Madeira, and was taken to Hawaii by immigrants from there and the Azores.

Professional players might spend upward of $3,000 for a custom-built instrument, but a starter or student model is very affordable. Ukuleles at Innersleeve Records in Amagansett are priced at $45, Chris Clark, who works at the shop, said yesterday.

“It’s a very egalitarian, democratic instrument in that anyone can afford one, or you can give one as a present,” Ms. Raeder said.

If Hawaii and Portugal are too far away, one can sit in the sun, enjoy the ocean breeze, strum a ukulele, and dream of those faraway lands right here in East Hampton. After a lesson or two, that is.