MASON CITY | Heads bobbed, toes tapped and hands clapped as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain strummed Blur’s “Song 2” Tuesday afternoon during a special visit to Harding Elementary School in Mason City.
The orchestra comprising eight men and women visited the school’s Ukulele Club for a 30-minute clinic, where 20 third- and fourth-graders were encouraged to ask questions about the musicians’ ukuleles, lifestyles and everything in between, ahead of its evening concert at North Iowa Area Community College.
“This meant the world to these kids,” said Allison Day, elementary music teacher, to the orchestra. “I can’t thank you enough.”
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, a decades’ old ensemble featuring ukuleles in different registers that performs around the world, is on a three-week tour in the U.S. that included a concert in Mason City as part of NIACC’s Performing Arts and Leadership Series.
The orchestra’s visit to Harding Elementary is the only one it’s scheduled to make this year, its booking agent said.
“It’s actually very unusual to find time to be able to divert the tour, but luckily, we arrived yesterday so we could get here,” she said.
Day, who also teaches at Pinecrest Center, said Harding received 25 ukuleles last spring thanks to grants received from DonorsChoose, Mason City Education Foundation and individuals. The ukuleles — the school’s only class set of musical instruments — are shared with students at Pinecrest.
“We wanted to give them something that could be a lifelong instrument,” she said. “This could become the Ukulele Orchestra of North America. I don’t know.”
Around the same time the school received the ukuleles, NIACC announced its series lineup that featured a performance by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, so Day sent a letter to the college seeking promotional materials or tickets to the concert for her students.
But instead, the students were invited to open for the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
“I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that it would start a Ukulele Club and we’d have the Ukulele Orchestra here, and we’d have the kids playing,” Day said. “It was nothing I could’ve fathomed.”
To prepare for their performance, the students — many of whom had never played a ukulele before — practiced once a week for 45 minutes before or after school since the fall. The Ukulele Club had its first run-through as a group a week and a half before the concert.
After the students listened to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain perform songs, like “The Lime House Blues,” “Happy” and “Song 2,” they took to the risers in the classroom with their ukuleles and played a “Trolls” medly and the Harding Elementary School song.
The Ukulele Orchestra provided the students with a standing ovation and gathered on the risers for a group photo.
“It’s an amazing experience that these kids will remember forever,” said Brooke Brunsvold, Harding Elementary principal, who recorded parts of the clinic.
She said adding ukuleles, and other musical instruments, at the school exposes children to the arts, which may provide opportunities beyond athletics.
At the concert, the Ukulele Club played six songs, like “Million Reasons,” “Rockin’ Robin,” and “Three Little Birds,” that they picked out and practiced.
“I couldn’t imagine being able to offer this to my kids, so I’m so excited for them,” Day said.