Borrow a ukulele!

Joe Blumenthal (center), owner of Downtown Sounds, plays the ukulele he donated to Forbes Library, along with musical library staffers Benjamin Kalish (left, with baritone uke) and Jason Mazzotta. Patrons can borrow the instrument and instructional DVD for free with their library card.
--photo by Faith Kaufmann

Have you always wanted to learn a musical instrument, but didn't know where to start? Now you can borrow a ukulele and instructional DVD from Forbes Library! Joe Blumenthal, owner of local music store Downtown Sounds, has donated the traditional Hawaiian instrument for circulation to library patrons.

"Only a tiny fraction of our population plays a musical instrument, in spite of the great deal of pleasure and satisfaction it brings," says Blumenthal. "As a music retailer, it's my job to spread the joy of music and playing music far and wide. Because the ukulele is small, relatively inexpensive and relatively easy to play, it's an ideal instrument for someone who thinks they might like to start playing. The circulating ukulele at Forbes will give people the opportunity to give it a try. So I urge my fellow citizens: Turn off the TV, be active not passive, and discover the joy of playing music."

The ukulele is enjoying a resurgence in popular music, lately featured in western Mass. folk group The Mammals, and seen on stage with Elvis Costello and YouTube phenomenon Jake Shimabukuro.

Arts & Music Librarian Faith Kaufmann notes that the ukulele has enjoyed popularity several times in its history. It originated in the 19th century with Portuguese immigrants in Hawaii, and quickly became a cornerstone of Hawaiian music. After its American debut at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, amateur and professional musicians made it ubiquitous through the 1920s. Then it reverted to the margins of popular culture until it made a comeback on TV in the 1950s, but wasn't taken seriously. The latest revival started to grow in the mid-1990s when enthusiasts staged events like the Montague (MA) ukulele festival. "We have ukulele instruction books published in 1920 that are still circulating from our shelves," says Kaufmann. "And the recent CDs and books by ukulele masters like Jim Beloff and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole are quite popular too. It is so trendy that the New York Times Style section recently published a photo essay on ukulele players." (See our Subject Guide for more articles and links).

Anyone in 6th grade or older with a Forbes Library card in good standing may check out the ukulele for 3 weeks (renewable once).

For more information, contact the Forbes Arts & Music Department at 587-1013.

Ukulele Links

Downtown Sounds