Four strings of nylon

Tiff Cherney talks with classmate Ethan Whitney as she practices on the ukulele Tuesday. Fergus Falls High School band director Scott Kummrow teaches a class at the Area Learning Center where a grant from the 544 Education Foundation allowed the class to purchase ukuleles.

For most people, high school band music usually involves a brass section, percussion and wind instruments. But while these musical devices aren’t old hat, different instruments provide first-time musicians an opportunity to contribute. For the Fergus Falls High School Music Department, the purchase of ukuleles has given students such an opportunity.

“Ukulele are a very good entry level instruments,” Band instructor Scott Kummrow said. “Their size is easy to manage, the nylon strings are easier on the fingers than guitar steel strings and many chord formations are easy and only involve one or two fingers.”

Kummrow uses the Hawaiian-originated instrument in his Area Learning Center music classes.

Kummrow also said that after several of the students wanted to learn ukulele that he decided to seek funding. “It was clear to me this was something they wanted and I wanted to make it come true for them. The foundation enabled this to happen in a quicker timeline than if we had to wait for a new funding cycle.”

The ukulele has seen a rise in pop culture over the last few years. The songs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Wonderful World” saw a resurgence with the use of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole covers of the famous tunes. The ukulele has also found its way on the popular TV show “America’s Got Talent” as winner Grace VanderWaal has presented several modern pop hits using the instrument.

The purchase of the ukuleles would not have been possible without the help of a grant from the 544 Education Foundation.  The class received a grant of $480 for the instruments.

“These grants are amazing. They fill the gaps that our annual budgets create,” Kummrow added.

Using a program called Ukeoke, the students learn a variety of songs. Kummrow said that the program was created to help people learn from home but it is effective in the classroom.  There are a variety of songs to choose from the program. The students are currently working on “Riptide” by Vance Joy, a pop hit, as well as a smattering of other songs to improve their use of chords.

“I am hoping to get to some other songs including some traditional American musica and also the ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ ” said Kummrow.

Although Kummrow doesn’t see the ukulele making its presence felt in band concerts in the future, he doesn’t count it out. “The students really enjoy playing them in class, so we’ll see if that expands at all.”

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