For the Miami Valley Today
TROY — A teacher’s passion, coupled with a grant from the Troy Foundation, has led to the sound of ukulele music emanating from Forest Elementary School and Kyle Elementary School in Troy this school year.
“I’ve wanted to start an ukulele program since before I came to Troy,” said Jenny Hewitt, who teaches music at both Forest and Kyle. “It is an instrument I picked up a few years ago and love the adaptability to the classroom. Prior to this, students have only had a few Orff instruments (xylophones and glockenspiels) or recorder. I felt that fifth grade was a great opportunity and something that would build interest as students grew in the music program.”
Hewitt began the program on a smaller scale, using the ukuleles already available in the schools.
“I began the program last year after I found 18 ukuleles that had been here since before the previous music teacher,” she said. “Because our schedule was quarterly last year, I was able to use the same set for all four quarters, with enough for one for each student. I did end up buying six more to have enough for everyone. Now that we are on a normal schedule and I see 60 fifth graders a week, I knew I needed to have enough for both schools.
“With a generous grant from the Troy Foundation, I was able to buy 40 more ukuleles and 10 tuners that are split between the two schools. This allows us to have 64 ukuleles in total, enough that each student will have an instrument and not need to share. Students are able to take an instrument home and practice when they do not have music class. Last year’s students really enjoyed being able to share the instrument with their families.”
Ukuleles are a great instrument for young musicians and can lead to more musical exploration down the road.
“There are many wonderful benefits to learning ukulele,” she said. “Hand-eye coordination is greatly benefited, as both hands are doing something different; the right hand strums while the left hand creates the chord. Playing the ukulele teaches musicality, body awareness, and self-discipline. It’s also a lot of fun to be able to play along with your favorite songs from today’s pop music as there are many play-along videos on YouTube.
“Ukulele easily transfers over to other instruments like guitar, other string instruments, and even wind instruments because rhythm becomes part of your body when playing. Some people will ask, why not just play the guitar? I like the ukulele because we only have four strings, which allows us to more easily play various chords and quickly start playing music. It is also easier for students to hold as the size matches the students’ bodies better than a full-size guitar. The ukulele is also very easily portable and a relatively inexpensive instrument.”
Hewitt said she’d like to see the program continue to grow in the coming years.
“I believe this year will be successful, too, as students have been asking since school began when we were going to start playing,” she said. “We are grateful for the funds from the Troy Foundation to continue the program. Currently, Kyle and Forest are the only elementary schools playing ukulele, mainly because I have training in the instrument. But who knows? Maybe we can get programs going across the district in the future. I look forward to a time when we can do live performances again. Until then, we will be recording a few pieces once in a while to share with parents and the community.”