The Hippo


Dec 5, 2019








The New Hampshire Ukeladies. Kelly Sennott photo.

Hear the Ukeladies

Where: N’awlins Grille, 860 Elm St., Manchester
When: Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m.

The ukulele bug
In downtown Manchester, the Ukeladies play on

By Kelly Sennott

 Once a week, a group of 10 to 20 women meet on the second floor of the Ted Herbert Music School building, assemble in two rows and play the ukulele. 

They’re students, lawyers, nurses, college professors and teachers, and their ages range from teenager to 70-something, but come Wednesday evening, they’re all the same New Hampshire Ukeladies, performing on instruments of different sizes, from soprano to baritone, and different colors — pink, brown, blue, green, turquoise and white. When they’re not rehearsing together, they’re performing together, either at the Hanover Hills Health Care Center or at N’awlins Grille. 
At the time of their interviews, just before rehearsals last week, they were prepping to practice “Ophelia” for their Jan. 27 gig at N’awlins, and maybe a few other songs planned for that concert,  like “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Piece of my Heart.” 
New member Susan Hebert was tuning her instrument, and fellow Ukelady Cyndy Carlson was getting ready to sing with the group for the first time. Music director John Chouinard was passing around Dove chocolate, which he does at most get-togethers.
Chouinard, a Ted Herbert Music School instructor, started the Ukeladies in 2012 after seeing the number of women taking up the tiny stringed instrument. The “founding mothers” of the group are friends Danielle York and Kate Boisvert. They were both first guitar students but switched when they found the ukulele, which is easier to learn. 
Unlike the guitar, it has four strings, not six, and most chords require just two or three fingers. Some guitar chords, on the other hand, have one finger hitting two or three strings at a time. Plus, it’s less expensive, with decent ukuleles available for less than $100.
“I’ve tried and tried to learn guitar, and I just could never get comfortable with it. I feel like, with the ukulele, very quickly I was able to play at a basic enough level to be encouraged to keep going with it and not get frustrated,” said Carlson, who joined the group that first year after seeing the “Ukeladies” poster while walking down Elm Street.
The first meeting had about four members, but that didn’t last long. Word spread like wildfire, and by the time Priscilla Memole joined later that year, there were about eight members. The night of her interview, she was playing on a banjolele, or banjo ukulele.
“It’s got the banjo sound to it, but it’s got the tuning of a ukulele,” Memole said, gesturing to her instrument. “I used to play guitar in a folk group. I had come over to John to learn how to play that banjo that was in my closet again. He said, ‘Have you ever played the ukulele?’ He put it in my hand and said, ‘I’m forming a group called the Ukeladies, and I think you’d be perfect.’ … I did have that background in guitar, so it wasn’t too hard to learn.”
The Ukeladies can play around 70 songs, which they learn during rehearsal and practice using music Chouinard downloads on thumbdrives. Most of those songs are oldies, but they also do a bit of rock.
They’ve performed at the Concord Public Library lawn, at the New Hampshire Ukulele Picnic and at corporate and birthday parties, in addition to their regular concerts.
To join, you don’t even need to know how to read music, the women said —  just chord charts, though new members are taught that and learn fast, anyway.
“We have enough people who are really, really talented to help the people who maybe struggle a little bit more, for the most part. That’s why you can join at any time. You sit and you play whatever chords you can play, and you’ll get up to speed quickly,” said Deanna Andree, who joined two years ago.
Since the group’s start, there have been about 30 Ukeladies. Some have come and gone, either moving away or becoming too busy to meet regularly. Most members hear about it through friends or word of mouth, and new players normally stop in every other month. In fact, the night of that rehearsal, the Ukeladies had a new uke player, Sally Thoman, dropping in to give it a try.
Chouinard joked the group is the “girl band he always dreamed of.” Memole said she loves their meet-ups.
“If you like to play an instrument, it’s so much nicer playing with a group,” Memole said. 

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