Who Knew the Ukulele Would Change My Life?
I have had many nicknames over the years. My oldest friends still call me Stu Magoo. As a young adult, I was part owner of a small organic bakery and went by – wait for it – Stu D. Baker. There is the obvious Beef Stu, and its spinoffs Gumbo Stu and Brunswick Stu.
My wonderful wife Janna came up with The Stunami of Sound. A friend coined the ridiculous Zon Juan.
But my students? They call me Stukulele.
To quote Leon Russell:
I’ve seen so many places in my life and time.
I’ve sung a lot of songs; I’ve made some bad rhymes.
What I didn’t see coming was the musical surprise of a lifetime – the ukulele. Who knew this little Hawaiian instrument could be so fun and rewarding? The camaraderie and authentic joy in the ukulele community is astonishing and irresistible. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Growing up in the late 60s, all I knew about the ukulele was Tiny Tim on Laugh-In. While campy and oddly funny, it didn’t attract me. To this day when people unfamiliar with the diversity and beauty of the uke learn that I play and teach, I am often asked to play Tiptoe Through The Tulips. Of course, I can play this song, and even do a decent Tiny Tim impression, but I prefer to direct their attention to what else can be played on this wonderfully crafted instrument.
I started guitar lessons at age twelve and have taught since I was twenty. I have loved playing and teaching guitar all these years and will always be a guitar player first. That said, I am grateful that my GOC (Granddaughter of Choice) Hannah asked me to teach her to play guitar. She was only 8 at the time. A small 8. My dear friend Julie Austin had been extolling the virtues of the ukulele for some years, so Janna suggested I start Hannah on the uke. She had just seen Taylor Swift play it in concert and loved the idea.
But first, I had to teach myself! It didn't take long. I discovered I could play any kind of music on the ukulele. After about a week, I began teaching it. And seven years later, I now teach more ukulele than guitar. I love every minute. Thank you, Hannah.
For anyone reading this who has always wanted to play an instrument, the ukulele is easier than other stringed instruments, and for a very small investment, you can commence a-strumming. You’ll be happy you did.
Take it from ol’ Stukulele.
Stu Zonder grew up in Oak Park, and graduated from OPHS 1973. He now resides very happily with Janna and pooch Cady Jolene on The Zonderosa, a hop, skip and 45-minute ride from Atlanta. Stu and Janna own and operate String Along With Stu. Zonder is an Endorsed Artist and Teacher for Kala Ukuleles and Kamoa Ukuleles.