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When words fail music speaks; Mainer offers free ukulele lessons for front line workers

Retired college professor Duncan Perry of Scarborough offers free lessons with a loaner ukulele to front line workers as a way of giving back.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Retired college professor Duncan Perry is exactly the sort of man who can be persuaded by his grandchildren to learn how to play an instrument. He is also the sort of man who doesn't do anything piecemeal.  He started out teaching himself how to play the banjo. Then when his granddaughter wanted to learn the ukulele, he taught himself and then her. The pair made the rounds on the library and school circuit before his granddaughter's interest waned, but Duncan was hooked. 

A man who truly does not know the meaning of the word idle, when retirement hit, Duncan started playing his instruments for hospice patients in his home state of Pennsylvania. 

"Suddenly I found myself in a whole new world. I found myself in a world of peace but sadness. At first, it seemed like a bad fit, and then as I began to meet the people who were patients who were dying, we became friends and I discovered how joyous it was for me to play music for them," Duncan remembers. 

When Duncan and his wife Betty moved to Scarborough several years ago, he began teaching ukulele lessons in adult education classes up and down the Maine coast and volunteering for TIP, Trauma Intervention Program.

"Volunteers in the Trauma Intervention Program are called in to be with people who are experiencing quite possibly the worst days of their lives because of loved ones being injured or dying and our job is to basically administer emotional first aid and provide some resources," Duncan explains. 

But in March of 2020, when Covid-19 struck, it crippled his work as a ukulele teacher and as a volunteer for TIP. No longer able to come face to face with people and put his arm around them, he felt useless. 

Credit: NCM
Jessica Atkinson, nurse at Maine Medical Center, says ukulele lessons with Duncan Perry have been a stress buster.

But Duncan knew when words fail, music speaks. He realized he could offer first responders an outlet to the stress caused by the coronavirus, through free music lessons. 

"These folks can spell stress any way you like it... Music eliminates or at least modifies stress. It's a way of giving people a little bit of peace," Duncan then got to work. 

A couple of months ago he started offering free ukulele lessons online, through TIP, to first responders at Maine Medical Center. The response was overwhelming and in his first four-week course he taught close to three dozen people. He provides them with a loaner ukulele, which have been donated to him from two different companies, and a kit so that even if students don't know how to read music they can play. 

Credit: NCM
Duncan Perry offers free ukulele lessons to front line workers during the pandemic as a way for them to relieve stress and a way for him 'to give back.'

Operating room nurse at Maine Med, Jessica Atkinson, says within the first 30 minutes of her first class, Duncan had everyone playing an actual song.   

"Duncan is wonderful. He's so friendly warm and inviting. It makes it really easy to work with him because he's just so gentle and genuine," Jessica explains. 

Jessica says this year has been the most challenging of her career as a nurse and that ukulele lessons have helped relieve stress.  

"It's definitely provided me with an outlet that I didn't think I'd ever have," says Jessica. 

For Duncan sharing music is striking the right chord in his own life. 

"It's utter joy. I adore it. When I don't have a class I'm climbing the walls," he says. 

Duncan has no plans of stopping. He says he wants every front-line worker whether they be a doctor, postal worker, or grocery bagger. 

"If they want to learn the ukulele I will be there... it's just my way of giving back!" 

 If you are a front-line worker interested in taking Duncan Perry's ukulele course email him at uketime24@gmail.com.