There’s an unexpected instrument behind a bubbling music scene in Lansing, Michigan.
What might that instrument be? The ukulele. Brought from Hawaii, the ukulele gained popularity in the 1900s after the Panama Pacific International Exposition featured performances by Hawaiian Ukulele players.
Fast forward to 2018 and Ben Hassenger and a few close partners have reaped the benefits of a booming ukulele group right here in Lansing. You can join by following on Facebook and gathering more details as well as find out when the next strum is and its theme. You can even download the songs they play.
“My wife and I started with the ukulele group in 2013,” said member James Levande. “The East Lansing senior citizens program, Prime Time, offered a beginning class in ukulele. I’ve never played an instrument. My wife, who died in 2014, was a musician who played piano and organ. We decided that it would be fun to try.”
Levande said that the Prime Time group formalized itself and adopted the name “Prime Time Strummers.” They continue to meet today.
The Lansing Ukulele group was founded in 2009 by Hassenger, Dave Pasant and Stan Werbin. They remain active members, along with dozens of others that play monthly. They meet the second Saturday of every month and play from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Sir Pizza Grand Café in Old Town, Lansing.
“I love the ukulele shows,” said Kyle Kirkland, who often attends. “The vibes they produce on a early Saturday morning are unmatched for me.”
The group spices up its playing by correlating themes with whatever might be going on. Recently they did all songs about love for Valentine’s Day. They usually have a lot of people who watch them play.
”Usually 75 to 100 people come out, which is crazy,” Hassenger said.
Playing the ukulele is a communal thing like a bowling league or a golf club, said
Hassenger who fell in love with the instrument in 2009 when visiting Hawaii, during a ukulele festival. He came back to Lansing and got with his friend Werbin who is the owner of an instrument shop, Elderly Instruments, in Lansing, and is also a strong supporter of the ukulele.
He now also teaches the seniors in East Lansing’s Prime Time program, kids in Lansing Public Schools, group and individuals lessons at Elderly Instruments and workshops across the country and Canada.
Hassenger is amazed at how the start of his ukulele group in 20
09, inspired so many others to start similar groups.
“At the time, it was one of two clubs in the state. Now there’s over 25 ukulele groups all across the state of Michigan,” Hassenger said. “It’s been kind of an incubator.”
Lansing’s central location is the main reason so many groups spun off, Hassenger said. People from all around were able to attend Lansing shows, and that prompted others to start their own groups. Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo each have one.
“There are many reasons that I continue to play the ukulele,” Levande said. “One for the enjoyment of making music. Also, to meet regularly with other friendly people who enjoy music and the fun of playing the ukulele.”