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Smiling and strumming

West Houston residents try their hand at the ukulele

Created date

December 19th, 2014
residents playing the ukulele

Judy Doba was eager to try as many activities as possible when she and her husband Ray moved to Eagle’s Trace from their house in Northwest Houston in April 2014.

“I wanted to find out what I liked and what I didn’t,” says Judy, who jumped into life at the West Houston Erickson Living community by joining a Bible study, taking a water aerobics class, and learning to play the Chinese game mah-jongg.

One opportunity, in particular, caught Judy off guard.

“I never thought I’d learn to play an instrument at this stage of life,” she says. “But here I am, playing the ukulele.”

Ukulele band

Judy is a member of the recently formed ukulele band at Eagle’s Trace. 

Buddy Griffin, a retired pastor from Sagemont Church, comes to the West Houston community once a week to lead practice.

The ukulele band started in September 2014 following a solo performance at Eagle’s Trace by Griffin, a professional musician since 1961.

“My passion is music,” says Griffin. “It has the power to improve people’s lives.”

Griffin’s performance at Eagle’s Trace was so well received that Lisa Hadley, community resources coordinator, asked if he would be interested in teaching the ukulele to residents.

Although he’s retired, Griffin continues to direct the All-Stars Youth Banjo Band at Sagemont Church, where the average age of band members is 12.

“My students at Eagle’s Trace are a bit more advanced in years, but they’re catching on quickly,” says Griffin. “I enjoy seeing people succeed. It just goes to show that anyone can learn an instrument.”

Making music fun

Eagle’s Trace resident Dan Wagner started piano lessons when he was in the ninth grade.

“I have something of an ability to play by ear, which got me in trouble a time or two,” says Dan, who grew up in Tulsa, Okla. “My piano teacher favored the classical pieces. One day she caught me inserting a boogie-woogie bass line into Liebestraum, one of her favorite classical works. She said she couldn’t teach me piano after that.”

Now, Dan once again embraces the fun in music as a member of the ukulele band. 

“I had a girlfriend in high school who knew how to play the ukulele,” says Dan. “She encouraged me to learn, and we’d take our ukuleles down to the root beer drive-in and play. But that was a long time ago. This is the first time I’ve picked up a ukulele since high school.”

Still, Dan says that playing the ukulele is a little like riding a bike.

“It’s coming back to me,” says Dan, who sets aside 30 minutes every day to practice. “I’m more motivated now to move past the chords and learn to play melodies.”

Crowd-pleasing entertainment

The band’s first performance was a sing-a-long for Eagle’s Trace residents in mid-December, featuring crowd-pleasing favorites like “Jambalaya on the Bayou,” “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue,” and “You Are My Sunshine.”

“We have so much fun,” says Judy. “It’s wonderful to see people smile and sing along. I feel rewarded, knowing I learned an instrument that was foreign to me, and now I can use it to entertain others.”