I toss my ukulele, chord sheets, and gear into the back of Carolyn’s van and off we go to ukulele camp.
The sun is just coming up over her prairie as we head down the driveway, talking a mile a minute. I am so excited I am bursting with conversation and thoughts and expectations of things to come.
Woodburn is a short drive through the country, but the detour takes us deeper into the heart of corn country and we both marvel at the beauty of the landscape.
Yes, Woodburn, Indiana, home of the ukulele and dulcimer camps. Who knew?
We are one of the first to arrive and we gather our gear and head on into the space of beauty with music everywhere. Carolyn has been here before for dulcimer camp so she knows the drill. We put our music stands down and tour the building.
The bathrooms are first on the short tour, then the rooms for the workshops. The rooms are the wood storage area, the wood shop and the packing area. The concert hall will also be used for harmonica lessons and the concerts that co-mingle with the classes.
Richard, the owner and a musician himself, welcomes us. I shake his hand and cannot keep my enthusiasm to myself. I am wide-eyed and ready to learn!
We haul our gear into the wood shop and prepare for our first class with Wendy. Wendy Songe is a musician from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but she could have come from the hills of Ireland. Her curly red hair and her infectious laugh bring the class to order.
It is a small class with just 12 of us attending. I tune my uke. and have a feeling I am on the verge of something big, like an orchestra warming up. I sit up straight and tall and wink at Carolyn. Wendy introduces herself and says, “Thank you for taking my classical ukulele class.”
I lean over to Carolyn, “Did we sign up for classical ukulele?”
She shrugs her shoulders as Wendy hands out music by Brahms and Beethoven. The music sheets look foreign to me and I gulp with anxiety. I whisper to Carolyn again, “Where is ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star?’”
Two hours later we are playing Brahms.
Each class is two hours long and we have five of them for the weekend: classical ukulele, Disney (yes, on the ukulele!), strumming patterns, Woody Guthrie (now you are talking!), and picking. Our other teachers are from around the country. Lil Rev is from Milwaukee and Bing is from Orlando, Florida.
Meals are home-cooked and we eat at long tables with different folks, getting to know everyone in our camp. It seems as if everyone wants to eat with us. (OK, maybe not, but I like to think so.) The campers have come from East Texas (17 hours on the train!), Baltimore, Canada, Indianapolis and all over the United States.
Between classes our teachers give concerts on the concert stage. We sit in the front row to watch and learn more from these marvelous folks.
Saturday night brings a full concert and, again, we are in the front row. The concert also features banjos, dulcimers, guitars and harmonicas. It is light-hearted and sweet, but then as in all life, there are moments that take our breath away and we pause for grief.
Richard lost his brother, Steve, this summer. He was the one who hand-crafted each dulcimer and ukulele.
We allow this sadness to roll over the audience in silence until Lil Rev comes down off the stage to embrace Richard. Within moments we learn of the grief of Lil Rev who lost his wife this past year. It doesn’t matter that I never met either one of these folks, tears roll down my face and the face of everyone else in the audience.
Lil Rev then sings for her and invites their daughter up on stage. She bounces up onto the stage with her kazoo. She is 7 and travels with her dad. Her sweetness changes the mood of the room as we clap and cheer and smile at her.
The weekend flies by as quickly as do the notes on my ukulele. Carolyn and I take part in the open mic playing, “This Land is Your Land.” We aren’t that great, but we are funny.
All too soon camp breaks. We gather our gear and load the car.
The drive home is short, but the stories will be with us forever.
LOU ANN HOMAN-SAYLOR lives in Angola at the White Picket Gardens where you can find her gardening or writing late into the night under the light of her frayed scarlet lamp. She is a storyteller, teacher, writer, actress and a collector of front porch stories. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.