The Ukuladies: a subculture of DHS

Kristen Slade, Reporter

Over the past couple of years, an unofficial club formed at Durango High School when a small group of all-female students decided to meet in a teacher’s classroom at lunch on Fridays. Their mission: make music.

They weren’t forming a choir or creating a band, they were simply getting together to have some fun. Additionally, they were jamming to a very unexpected tune, the ukulele.

“My favorite part was being with my friends and just having a lot of fun together,” said McKenna Langford, a student who moved to Utah last year as a sophomore.

One-hundred and twenty-five years ago, Portuguese immigrants from Madeira came to Hawaii to work in sugar cane fields, and they brought a four-stringed instrument called a Machete. The Hawaiians loved the music, and popularity of the instrument grew.

The machete was renamed ukulele in the Hawaiian language, meaning “jumping flea”, and it became Hawaii’s national instrument. Because of this, Sr. Tiffany Harris said they all joked about entering a talent show wearing grass skirts while Kurt Ziener, former teacher at DHS, wore a coconut bra.

The ukulele is popular for its simplicity. Its small, four-stringed structure makes it the baby version of a guitar or banjo. Thus, students and teachers alike who had never played before could gather together, and by the end of lunchtime, they would all know the chord progression to a song and  could play together.

“My favorite memory is just watching [former teacher, Aaron] Eldridge try to play the ukulele while sitting on the floor. It was funny because he couldn’t figure it out,” said Sr. Jenna Engelken.

So, perhaps simple is a relative term, but regardless of the talent anyone demonstrated, everyone who participated enjoyed it.

Former DHS student of the class of 2015 Chelsea Harris said, “Mostly it was just a fun time just jamming.”

But for some, the Ukuladies was not just a place to have fun, it was a reprieve from the stresses of everyday life and a way to create friendships.

“We started the Ukuladies in the spring and I wished we had started earlier. I looked forward to it every Friday. One of the best aspects was it was a diversion for everyone to play music and have fun. Tiffany was in my class and Holly was in my advisory, but when they tried to teach me to play an instrument, we definitely connected in a more personal way,” said former DHS English teacher Aaron Eldridge.

The students and teachers who formed the Ukuladies all grew closer to each other and found a way to escape anything that was going on in the outside world.

“I may have even been able to play after a few years of practicing. I remember one day I had been trying to learn a simple strumming pattern and still couldn’t do it, and Mr. Garner came along and could play a song right away,” said Eldridge.

In the Ukuladies, talent was irrelevant, because they enjoyed just being together.

“Something about sitting in a circle and singing unites people,” said Engelken.

Sadly, all good things must end, but the memories are preserved.

“Saying goodbye was difficult, but I was presented a gift at the end of the year, and now I have my own ukulele,” said Eldridge.

The Ukuladies found a way to jam to an unusual tune, and in the end they all came to be close friends who gained memorable experiences and a reprieve from the stresses of everyday life.