It was the third session in a 10-week ukulele class at the Peninsula Seniors Center recently. Several dozen senior citizens were ready for action. With two lessons under their belts, they looked forward to another hour of “uke” playing, led by Clint Fisher, serious musician, seasoned teacher, Hawaii aficionado, former United States Marine, stand-up comic and philosophical sage – not necessarily in that order.
As the class got underway, beginning students tuned their ukulele strings – G, C, E and A. They were comfortable, after 14 days of “just practicing 15 minutes a day to form your fingers’ muscle memory,” Fisher said.
In the first two lessons, he covered the basic parts of the ukulele and strumming techniques, such as using your pointer finger and third finger to play quietly and beautifully.
“When strumming, think about turning a door knob, not chopping wood,” he said, before adding a final admonition. “This is a very easy instrument to play – poorly.”
It was 5 p.m. — cocktail hour — but these seniors were in class, glued to Fisher’s every word. He assured them that with the three chords, they could play hundreds, maybe thousands, of songs. In fact, they already had seven tunes down and have advanced from “Three Blind Mice” to “Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight.”
“Remember, these simple songs are vehicles that allow us to focus on strums and chords,” he said. “After we practice this week, we will be a little bit better, and we all will move forward.”
Despite the evening time slot, none of the seniors could nod off while belting out old favorites, from “Santa Lucia” to the rousing “Marine’s Hymn.” They aren’t pros yet, but, hey, they have seven more classes to go.
Fisher led the singing while he played. His voice is strong and confident or sweet and poignant, depending on the tune. He keeps the crooners from wandering off key, at least as much as anyone can tell.
It’s the first time voices have been raised in the evening at the seniors’ new, permanent home, adjacent to the Peninsula Center Library, in Rolling Hills Estates.
“This is a momentous day for us since we have just started expanding our community programs from daytime only into the evenings,” said Peninsula Seniors Executive Director Margery Beierschmitt.
The result of this experiment is a waiting-list for the ukulele class. In fact, students have already asked Fisher if he’d teach a second 10-week session. The answer was in the affirmative, to a chorus of cheers.
Fisher, meanwhile, is on his feet, animated.
“Don’t get frustrated,” he said. “This is a beautiful instrument, but you must be patient and learn everything about playing it. Just enjoy the journey.”
With that, he did a little two-legged hop to his left and added: “OK, now I am off my soapbox.”
When Fisher isn’t instructing ukulele-toting seniors, he teaches fifth graders at Lucille Smith Elementary School, in Lawndale. And for years, he has performed solo gigs throughout the South Bay.
“Weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversary parties, funerals—I’ve done it all,” he said.
And since 2002, he has led the South Bay Strummers, a ukulele group that practices from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays at the Bartlett Senior Center, 1318 Cravens Ave., in downtown Torrance. The group performs at area civic functions and private parties, and the public is invited to join in on Saturdays. Just bring your ukulele.
The name “Peninsula Seniors,” meanwhile, is really a misnomer.
You don’t have to live on the Peninsula nor do you have to be a senior in order to belong.
The organization has more than 1,200 members and offers a dazzling array of classes, lectures, day- and multiday coach trips, as well as cruises. New this year (in addition to ukulele lessons) are classes on knitting and Zumba for people older than 50 years of age. There’s bridge and bingo and mah-jongg and ping pong; meet and greet events; a writers’ group; exercise classes; monthly movies; and a lunch bunch.
Music in the Garden
Vocal performances, bands, orchestras and string quartets will perform from noon to 5 p.m. March 1 at the South Coast Botanic Garden. Bring the family for an afternoon of music, complete with an instrument petting zoo, face painting and a taco tent. The event will feature students from area middle and high schools and is sponsored by the Peninsula Committee for the L. A. Philharmonic.
Tickets: $25 for a family; $15 for an adult and $5 for a child. Information: pclaphil.org.
Meredith Grenier is a former Daily Breeze features reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.