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Healing the world, one ukulele at a time

Kids and chords make for happy tunes.

PORTLAND, Maine — Convinced that the ukulele was a perfect way to connect kids to music and give them a sense of accomplishment, Lee Urban created Ukuleles Heal the World, a non-profit devoted to spreading the joy of playing the ukulele, and having a whole lot of fun while doing it.

A field behind Presumpscot School in Portland is today’s classroom, and most of the students held a ukulele for the first time yesterday. Already, they’re playing a couple of songs.

“The ukulele is an instrument, literally and figuratively to reach kids to make them feel very proud of themselves,” says Lee. "It came about because I started learning the ukulele. And I was working with kids who don’t always have all the advantages. But when they got a ukulele in their hand, started smiling, kind of sitting up straight, feeling pretty good about themselves, as well they should… I said you know, this is a good thing.”

This class is offered through LearningWorks, a non-profit that provides free afterschool and summer programs. Lee also brings his ukulele music to retirement communities to work with dementia patients, and occasionally plays with a cellist in hospice settings which he describes as a spiritual experience. The impact this small but mighty instrument makes still amazes him.

The approach is inviting and not intimidating - simple songs and a few chords – intended to unlock each kids’ ability to weave those chords in to plenty of other recognizable tunes. On the final day of the class, just before playing for a gathered audience, the kids learned they’ll be taking their ukuleles, a tuner, a gig bag and an instruction book home with them to keep.

Credit: NCM
Small and portable, the ukulele is easy to learn, and fun to play.

In the three years that Ukuleles heal the World has been around, Lee has taught over 300 kids how to play a few chords, strum a few tunes, and smile that ukulele smile when they make their music.

For more information, you can connect with Ukuleles Heal the World at https://www.facebook.com/ukuleleshealtheworld/ , LearningWorks at https://www.learningworks.me/, and the Casco Bay Uke Fest (which will be held on September 21st, 2019) at http://www.cascobayukefest.com/.