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Strumming to their own beat

The Acousti-Cats take musical performance to the next level

Created date

March 8th, 2017
The Acousti-Cats perform several lively shows every year for their fellow neighbors at Riderwood.

The Acousti-Cats perform several lively shows every year for their fellow neighbors at Riderwood.

When she was a teenager, Becky Hedin learned how to play the ukulele in her Girl Scout troop. She enjoyed it but didn’t continue to play after high school.

“I put it down and never picked up a ukulele again until I moved to Riderwood,” Becky says. “I had sung in choirs and led children’s music groups before, so I knew I had the musical background to do it.”

Now Becky leads Riderwood’s Acousti-Cats, a group of 25 ukulele and guitar players who put on several performances each year for their neighbors. Each show is organized around a different theme, such as “Love and Laughter,” “Cowboy Songs,” or “Colors of the Rainbow.” The group selects about ten songs that fit the theme, and they practice every week to prepare for their performances. 

A string of musical performances

Most recently, they performed Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza songs for the holidays. The theme for the next performance will be “‘50s and ‘60s Hootenanny.”

“For each show, I create a presentation with pictures and song lyrics [shown on a projector], and then we invite the audience to come and sing with us,” Becky says. 

In addition to several performances a year at Riderwood, the Acousti-Cats occasionally perform outside of the community for organizations like the Bethesda Women’s Club. The group includes a mix of soprano, concert, and tenor ukulele players, as well as guitarists. Resident Walter Kraus plays the bass for the group. 

Becky says people of all musical skill levels are welcome to join the Acousti-Cats. 

“Some people have never done anything musically,” Becky says. “I’ve encouraged them to come in and try it, and I try to include songs that are easy enough that even people who don’t have experience can do it.”

Intergenerational experience

Riderwood’s original ukulele group, the Ukulele Riders, was started in 2008 by the late Betty Hiltunen and her daughter Marcy Marxer, a Grammy-award-winning musician, performer, producer, and songwriter. When the need arose, Becky took over as practice leader, and the group became the Acousti-Cats in 2011.

“I thought it would be fun to do,” Becky says. “And I’ve really enjoyed it over the years.”

In addition to Becky, several original members of Ukulele Riders are still part of Acousti-Cats, including Dottie Mackin, Brooks Mahoney, Jean Flanick, and Terry Gorozdos. 

The group also includes a few members who don’t live at Riderwood, such as friends and adult children of residents. Members’ grandchildren sometimes perform with the group—making it a true intergenerational experience. 

Terry’s teenage granddaughter Mia has performed solos for group programs. Most recently, she played and sang, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” at the Acousti-Cats’ holiday show. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the oldest member, Dottie Mackin, turns 100 in March. Becky says that Dottie is among the liveliest members of the group.

“She is always the first to say yes when a new performance option opens,” Becky says. “We all love and benefit from her enthusiasm.”