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The rise of the ukulele

Strumming along with Bridgman middle schoolers

By LOUISE WREGE

HP Staff Writer

BRIDGMAN — A different sound is coming out of Jennifer Ammerman’s music classroom at Bridgman’s F.C. Reed Middle School – that of students strumming ukuleles.

Normally, she said her fifth and sixth grade students learn how to play recorders during the second semester of the school year, which started last week. She said she applied for and received a $1,539 grant from the Bridgman Foundation for Educational Excellence in the fall so she could buy the ukuleles.

Why ukuleles?

“I would rather hear 31 out-oftune ukuleles than 31 out-of-tune recorders,” she joked.

Then she added more seriously, “I thought it would be fun for the kids to learn something new. With ukuleles, you can learn about chords. With recorders, you can’t. You can only play one note at a time.”

Adding to the popularity of the ukuleles is that the winner of the 11th season of “America’s Got Talent” in September 2016 was 12-yearold Grace VanderWaal, who played a ukulele with many of her songs.

“She’s really good,” said Takiya Cornelius, 11, one of Ammerman’s sixth grade students. “One day, hopefully, I get to do that.”

Cornelius said she and her two best friends in the class, Peyton Oman and Emmerson Slavens, have been practicing singing together after school. They said they can’t practice with ukuleles because they don’t own any. But they said, they love VanderWaal’s songs.

“We’ve been listening to hersongs, like the ‘Clay’ song,” Slavens said.

“She wrote her own words,” Oman said.

Ammerman said she didn’t know about VanderWaal’s success until after she ordered the instruments. But she said her students sure knew about her.

“About one-third wanted to do Grace’s first song she won the

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Brooklyn DeMuth, 12, tries out a ukulele Thursday during a sixth grade music class at F.C. Reed Middle School in Bridgman. The district used a grant to buy the instruments.

Photos by Don Campbell / HP staff See more photos:heraldpalladium.mycapture.com

John Sanderson, 12, tries out a ukulele Thursday during a sixth grade music class led by Jennifer Ammerman at F.C. Reed Middle School in Bridgman. The school recently purchased 35 ukuleles through a grant from the Bridgman Foundation for Educational Excellence.


UKULELE

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golden ticket with,” she said. “It’s so cool that she’s just 12 and she writes her own songs.”

That first song was “I Don’t Know My Name.” The “America’s Got Talent” judges have one chance to hit the golden buzzer during auditions, which sends the performer straight to the live shows.

“The kids have been very enthusiastic about it. Lots of excitement,” Ammerman said.

She said some of her older students have asked to play the ukuleles.

“The seventh and eighth grades have choir,” she said. “... But I have made a deal with the seventh- and eighth-graders that if they can stay focused the first four days of the week, that on Friday’s, I’ll either let them start their spring concert music early, or I would teach themhow to play the ukulele.” The first song the students learned on the ukulele was “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from the “Trolls” movie, which uses only two chords.

Ammerman said next week, they will start working on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which takes five cords.

She said some of the students will perform using the ukuleles in the school’s “Spring into Spring” concert May 23.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege

Jennifer Ammerman works with students during a ukulele music class Thursday at F.C. Reed Middle School in Bridgman. The school recently purchased 35 ukuleles through a grant from the Bridgman Foundation for Educational Excellence.

Don Campbell / HP staff See more photos:heraldpalladium.mycapture.com

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