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June 18, 2024

This Is My Thing: Ukulele!

By: Mike Lee

A few years ago, six longtime friends — all retired — decided to form a ukulele band together. It wasn’t really planned, but after one of them decided to take up the instrument as a hobby, five more followed suit. Now they all meet up every week to catch up, chat, and play the ukulele together as the ‘Austin Ukuladies.’

The full transcript of this episode of KUT News Now is available on the KUT & KUTX Studio website. The transcript is also available as subtitles or captions on some podcast apps.

This Is My Thing: Ukulele!

<’This Is My Thing’ opening theme>

Michael Lee I’m Michael Lee, and you’re listening to This Is My Thing. You probably found this show as part of the KUT News Now podcast feed, so I should warn you that this show is not at all about the news. That’s on purpose. It is not a mistake. And I hope you stick around, because I think this is some pretty fun stuff.
On This Is My Thing, we talk to people about the things they do just for themselves. It’s not their job and it’s not a responsibility. It’s just a thing that brings them joy or feeds their soul.
This week: The ukulele!
I was very delighted recently to speak with Linda Parrish and Nancy Leeper, who are two members of the Austin Ukuladies, a group of six retired friends who meet up every Wednesday to play music together.

Linda Parrish My name is Linda Parrish, and I play the ukulele for good times. And to keep my mental acuity going is, as a senior citizen. And to be with friends.

Nancy Leeper My name is Nancy Leeper, and I play the ukulele. And it’s most fun to play with my five fellow Ukuladies.

Michael Lee You are — together, the two of you — you represent one third of the Ukuladies.

Linda Parrish Correct. Right.

Michael Lee Explain what that is. What are the Ukuladies?

Nancy Leeper Well, the Ukuladies started as just a a group that followed Linda Parrish as she said, ‘I want to learn to play the ukulele.’ And we all agreed. We had a little time on our hands, and so we decided we’d meet weekly just to test the waters.

Michael Lee What made you decide to play the ukulele and invite all of your friends to come do it with you?

Linda Parrish Well, I really didn’t invite them. I just told them that I was going to play ukulele and before I left the evening gathering, they just all said, we’re going to buy one too, and we want to do it with you. And I just thought, well, that sounds like fun. I was just kind of telling you what I was getting as a holiday present. So it just kind of evolved.

Linda Parrish I didn’t invite them! They just… [laughs]

Nancy Leeper No, no, that was good!

Michael Lee As one of the people who was not invited but decided to jump in, why did you decide I’m going to do this too?

Nancy Leeper You know, I just… it could be fear of missing out. [laughs] I don’t know.
Just to be honest, I just wanted to see what it was like, you know? And I play piano. Not as much as I used to play, but that’s a very solo kind of activity. And so to be able to play, make music with a bunch of people would be just so much fun.

Linda Parrish As you retire, get older, you read about the importance of stimulating like your brain, like learning a new language or picking up a new instrument is something that is very healthy for you. So I decided, okay, well, what’s the easiest thing I can pick up? And it was the ukulele. And so we discussed it and everybody bought one, some bought sopranos and some bought concert ukuleles. And we started working together. And it was just trial and error but we’ve had a great time, and we’ve developed even more friendships than we had at the beginning with each other.

Michael Lee Did you have any idea that this is what was going to happen when you told everyone that you were buying a ukulele?

Linda Parrish Absolutely not. It was right at the first of the year. We were all together at one of our many gatherings of 40 friends, and we were just starting the new year before Covid hit. And we were just saying, well, what’s new for you? What’s going on? I said, ‘Well, I’m getting ready’ or either ‘I’d gotten it’ or ‘I’m getting it.’ I don’t remember which. And here’s the deal — they all came up, not right then, but before we broke out of that gathering. And they kept saying, Linda, I want to do this, I want to do this. And before I left, I had six friends that were going to go home and get themselves ukuleles. And… we looked at each other and we would say, well, you got this kind. Or I went to Strait Music and I got this kind and I got… and I said, ‘I got this kind because I thought it was the prettiest.’ Remember? [laughs] Not because of its great sound or anything, but I really like the wood in mine. It was pretty. So that’s the level we were at.

Nancy Leeper That was a fun part of beginning to play, was going to pick out our ukuleles. And once you committed to buying it, then you really want to play.

Linda Parrish Right!

Nancy Leeper You want to learn.

Linda Parrish Because you get the strap to hold it. You get to decide if you want picks or not…

Michael Lee You mentioned your first ukulele. Have you bought a few over the last couple of years?

Linda Parrish I’ve got two good ones and I play my soprano all the time. My tenor, I just don’t care for it. I think it’s because I got it on sale online. I’m not sure. But, no, see, we haven’t gone into a lot of financial debt by doing this. We do tend to buy good tuners.

Nancy Leeper Kazoo.

Linda Parrish Kazoo [laughs]. Tambourine. You know, that’s about as good as it gets.

Michael Lee So it’s not just ukuleles. You have other instruments in the band.

Nancy Leeper Oh, yes!

Linda Parrish If you call kazoos and tambourines other instruments.

Michael Lee I absolutely do.

Nancy Leeper They add a lot. Some of our songs really wouldn’t be the same…

Linda Parrish [laughing] Right.

Nancy Leeper …without the kazoo, definitely.

Linda Parrish And then some of us have solo parts. And, you know, it’s kind of interesting how we decide who does what part. So, you know, it’s just fun. That’s all we’re really doing, is having fun and learning and getting together. And sometimes, at our age, we go through hard times or difficult times or different times. And sometimes it’s 45 minutes before we start playing because we are, just such a good support group.

Michael Lee You’ve mentioned the phrase ‘support group.’ I’m sure it’s the group itself, but also what you’re doing – it does something for you. It does something for your soul that you wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

Linda Parrish That’s right, that’s right. Some of the songs, ‘Teach the Children Well,’ ‘Hallelujah’ by Cohen. You know, it’s not all Bob Marley. We have a different repertoire.

Nancy Leeper I mean, you definitely love certain music more than others.

Linda Parrish Yes, and Nancy loves ‘The Rainbow Connection.’ It’s not my favorite, but, you know, we play it and move on. You’re right.

Michael Lee It is a classic of the genre.

Linda Parrish Oh, well, that’s right, that’s right. I like ‘Up the Lazy River’ and our youngest member in our group goes, okay, we’ll play this for Linda.

Nancy Leeper She says, ‘I never heard that song.’ [laughs]

Linda Parrish [laughing] It’s very, you know, there we go. And we laugh about, well, when we do this on stage or when we do this and no, that’s not going to happen. But it’s it. We talk about it a lot, right?

Michael Lee Do you have ambitions to go play shows?

Linda Parrish No.

Michael Lee This is just for you.

Linda Parrish It is, it is. In fact, there’s six of us. Three of us enjoy playing for other people, and the other three don’t want to play that.

Nancy Leeper And so we have to honor their what they feel comfortable with. And we’ve said, well, maybe occasionally the, the three people who enjoy playing for others would could do that, but it doesn’t seem right. So I don’t I think we’ll hang together as a group.

Linda Parrish That’s right. I have to tell you that my son said – when I said, ‘one of our members is so afraid if we get on KUT that somebody or call us and want us to come perform’. And my son very calmly said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about that.’ Okay.

Michael Lee Playing the ukulele, what does it do for your heart? How does it make you feel?

Nancy Leeper It’s a feeling like you have a little skill that is something special about you. Ukulele music is so, so happy. It’s just generally happy, especially like some of the ‘20s music. And I especially love playing that.

Michael Lee Do you think you’re going to keep doing it forever?

Linda Parrish Yeah, probably.

Michael Lee It just sounds like it’s something that’s bringing a lot of joy into your life.

Linda Parrish We think so. We don’t like to miss Wednesdays from 1 to 3. We don’t like to do it. Absolutely.

Michael Lee Thanks for listening to This Is My Thing. Stick around after the credits to hear a complete version of the Ukuladies’ original theme song.
I’m Michael Lee and I produced This Is My Thing. Jack Anderson helped out this week with field recordings. Special thanks, of course, to Linda Parrish, Nancy Leeper and all the other Ukuladies — Barbara Reiss, Joan Saidel, Mary Pat Bolton, and Sue Schaffer – for spending some time with us. Also thanks to Rebecca McInroy, Antonette Masondo, and Juan Garcia for helping develop this show.
Find out more at the This Is My Thing show page at KUT.org. You’ll also find a form on that page to let you tell us about your thing and maybe be a part of a future episode. And while you’re at it, if you’re just really enjoying filling out forms on the internet, you can also find a link to become a member of KUT. Our members make this and everything we do possible.
Thanks again for listening and in coming weeks on This Is My Thing, you’ll hear stories about a sword fighter, a curler, a metal detectorist, a guy who mills lumber in his driveway in Cedar Park… Lots of fun stuff coming up, so please keep listening for.
For This Is My Thing, I’m Michael Lee.

Laurie Gallardo Support for This Is My Thing comes from locally-owned Eckert Insurance. Worry less. Live more.

Lyrics:

We’re the Ukuladies
We’re from Austin town
We play the ukulele
But we’re not renowned

Listening to the music you just can’t wear a frown
It has a very, very happy sound!

We’re the Ukuladies
Gonna strum a song
We hope than you can join us
Help us sing along

No matter how you sing it we will all sound strong
The more you join just can’t be wrong

We’re the Ukuladies
So let’s get down
Dancing to our music
You might lose a pound

It brings a smile to peoples faces, this we have found
We’re the only group like us for miles around!

This transcript was transcribed by AI, and lightly edited by a human. Accuracy may vary. This text may be revised in the future.


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