Forget Tiny Tim; FWCS and TRU Ukes show ukuleles are hip and fun for all ages in Fort Wayne

Oh what fun it is to play with any kind of ukulele. Susie Fouts, a member of TRU Ukes, gets a little backing from her grandchildren during the group's December meeting at Pizza Hut Coventry. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of The News-Sentinel)
Members of TRU Ukes play Christmas songs earlier this month at Pizza Hut at Village at Coventry. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
TRU Ukes members use iPads and other electronic devices for their ukulele music.(Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
Jerry Noble leads to the TRU Ukes in their Christmas songs earlier this month at Pizza Hut at Village at Coventry. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
Phil Muhleman, left, and Tom McConnell, who comes from Muncie to play with TRU Ukes, play with the group at Pizza Hut. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
Rainee Perdue, left, and Sue McCollum play Christmas songs with TRU Ukes at Pizza Hut. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
Judy and Jack Smith play with TRU Ukes at Pizza Hut. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
Laura McCoy teaches students to play ukulele in her St. Joseph Central Elementary music class. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
Logan Newman, 9, plays ukulele in music class. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
McCoy helps students play contemporary songs on ukuleles while others follow along on a screen at the front of the classroom. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
St. Joseph Central Elementary music teacher puts away students' ukuleles that she got with a grant from Little Kids Rock. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of

With Christmas coming up, parents have been calling St. Joseph Central Elementary music teacher Laura McCoy for help: Where can I get a ukulele?

The tiny four-stringed instrument is experiencing a resurgence. The Hawaiian instrument has four strings – G, C, E, and A – that play a happy sound.

McCoy, who has taught music in Fort Wayne Community Schools for 39 years, received a grant through Little Kids Rock that got a number of instruments, including 24 ukuleles, from Sweetwater for her students.

She’s teaching her first-, second- and third-graders how to play the four-stringed instrument using contemporary songs. Last week it was Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”

“You can teach kids to keep a beat with sticks or a ukulele,” said McCoy, who has played guitar for a number of years and have never played ukulele before getting the grant. “It’s a lot more fun for me. The kids are begging to play them.”

The fun that comes with playing ukulele was evident earlier this month when members of TRU Ukes played at Pizza Hut, 5735 Coventry Lane. Taking up tables and booths on one side of the dining room, they pulled out the tiny instruments, set up their playlists on electronic devices and began strumming and singing Christmas songs.

TRU Ukes usually meets at 11 a.m. the fourth Saturday of the month at the Pizza Hut in Village at Coventry, some with their families, to play.

“People come to just hear us play,” said Trish Spangler. “It’s like family.”

Spangler was in fourth grade when her school offered to teach her ukulele or recorder. She and three others chose ukulele.

“I played a $6 ukulele for years,” Spangler said.

When she decided to teach it, she thought, “Surely there’s a group. But there wasn’t one.”

Eventually, TRU Ukes came along. Leader Jerry Noble was 14 when he got a ukulele from his uncle and his brother got a guitar. They ended up swapping and then 48 years later Noble returned to the ukulele. He took lessons at Sweetwater and asked others if they’d like to form a club. He found two others and the trio formed TRU (Three Rivers Ukelele) Ukes in 2012. And while the ukulele fell out of popularity during the time of Tiny Tim of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” fame, he played it well and was a bit of a music historian, Noble said. However, it doesn’t matter what the image is, it’s just so easy to play, he said.

“We’re here to have fun,” Noble said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Some of the members are just learning to play the instrument. Anyone is welcome to join them. No dues are charged.

The group started meeting in Woodburn and as they grew they found a spot at Pizza Hut, where they originally met in the side room. That was, member Karen Peak said, until the manager said they’d have to move. “Everybody’s complaining that they can’t hear you,” Peak said they were told.

Peak belongs to a subset of the club referred to as the Tennis Ukes. “We’ve played tennis for 35 years,” Peak said. Their leader got them interested in playing the ukulele. “We provide harmony,” she said.

“Our perfect day is 4 to 6 (p.m.) playing the ukulele, 6 to 7:30 playing tennis, then we go to the bar,” she said.

Some of the TRU Ukes meet the second Thursday of the month at Bittersweet Lakes clubhouse, 10918 Bittersweet Lake Way. People arrive 5:30-6 p.m. as they get off work, Noble said.

Ukuleles come in various sizes: Soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The school received sopranos, suitable for small children.

Compared to learning on guitar, music teacher McCoy said, “it’s more accessible.”

Her students are enjoying the ukulele.

“I like how it has a great harmony,” said Quamera Bell, 8. “It’s peaceful.”

Aaliyah Pialur, 9, is a bit experienced with the instrument, having played it since she was 8 at home.

“My family loves playing ukulele,” she said.