Share This Page

The Steel City Ukuleles jamming away in Pittsburgh

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 9:08 p.m.
Renee Waun, left, of Edgewood, and Meeli Lee of Mt. Washington concentrate on the music during ukelele practice at the Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square Wednesday, January 23, 2013. Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Blake Mohler, left, of Forest Hills, and Xiao Qian Hu of Shadyside, practice Wednesday, January 23, 2013 with the Steel City Ukeleles group. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Renee Waun of Edgewood shows off her traveling (small) and bass ukeleles during the Steel City Ukeleles practice Wednesday, January 23, 2013. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Meeli Lee of Mt. Washington has fun during the Steel City Ukeleles practice Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at the Wilkins School Community Center. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Steel City Ukeleles group practices Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at the Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square. The group meets twice a month. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Lisa Bernard of Regent Square strums her banjo ukelele during the Steel City Ukeleles practice Wednesday, January 23, 2013. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Blake Mohler, of Forest Hills, gets into the music during the Steel City Ukeleles practice at the Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square Wednesday, January 23, 2013. Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Jack Craig, left, of Beechview, and Herb Mooney of Shaler share a laugh during the Steel City Ukelele practice at the Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square Wednesday, January 23, 2013. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Meeli Lee, right, of Mt. Washington, Renee Waun of Edgewood, center, and Jan Ban of Mt. Washington practice during a ukelele jam at Wilkins School Community Center in Regent Square Wednesday, january 23, 2013. The Steel City Ukelele group meets twice a month. Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review

Herb Mooney has never been to “Hawai'i,” but he's sure he'd fit in if he ever got the chance to visit.

Rows of toes tapped almost in unison as Mooney and a dozen other members of the Steel City Ukuleles tickled their four-strings.

Yes, the group can play Hawaiian faves, but it won't take long before you hear a chorus of high-pitched covers of “All I Have To Do is Dream” by the Everly Brothers and “Hotel California” by the Eagles.

These were their last few strums, their last plucks before an open-mic jam session from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Hambone's restaurant in Lawrenceville.

Mooney, a self-described “tropical nut” who lives in Shaler, turned to the ukulele only five months ago, but says he's ready for Sunday.

He played bagpipes for years while living in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. There came a point when he was out of work and had to sell his bagpipes.

Mooney landed a new job in Pittsburgh and promised himself he'd return to music after he got back on his feet. Only this time, he chose the ukulele over the bagpipes.

He bought his first ukulele on eBay for $200, and brushes up on the instrument by watching video tutorials on YouTube.

“This is my first time back into music and it's been great,” Mooney says. “It feels natural.”

The Steel City Ukuleles group meets twice at month at the Wilkins School Community Center in Swissvale.

Don't mistake ukuleles, or “ukes” as they're known to fans, for small guitars.

They're not.

For one thing, they have four strings; guitars have six.

And then, there's that sound, that high-pitched lilt that has long been associated with music from Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.

According to the Ukulele Guild of Hawai'i, a Honolulu-based nonprofit that aims to preserve the instrument and its history, the first ukulele was probably made in the late 1800s by Portuguese cabinet-makers from the Madeira Islands. They had come to Hawaii to work in Hawaiian sugar-cane fields. After long, back-breaking days in the Tropical heat, men spent some nights strumming native Hawaiian tunes.

The uke's far-flung history is part of the allure for Linda Beck, of Corapolis.

She has been playing the tenor uke for more than a year and a half, drawing from her longer experience with the fiddle and banjo.

“When people hear this kind of music, they can't help but feel happy,” she says. “It's just fun, happy music.”

Sunday's jam session may be a fiery baptism for Lisa Bernard.

As a child, Bernard played piano, much of it classical. As she got older, she broke away from the keys, and was more drawn to the bouncy tunes of the likes of the Kingston Trio.

“I always loved folk music,” says Bernard, who worked for nearly two decades as a camp counselor.

Bernard has played the uke for only a month; her mini axe was a Christmas gift from her husband.

I'm a little nervous ... but the uke is stupidly easy to learn, so I think I'm ready,” says Bernard, who lives in Regent Square. “It'll (jam session) be like a campfire night for me.”

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cramirez@tribweb.com or 412-380-5682.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.