OPUS (Ocean Park Ukulele Strummers) is a no-fee group. Donations are accepted to help cover the cost of producing binders with sheet music copies and information. A donation jar is passed around at each get-together meeting.

Meets at the Ocean Park Timberland Library on Mondays. Beginners play from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Advanced, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Check out the Facebook page for more information (OPUS) Ocean Park Ukulele Strummers (it is necessary to type both names.)

Information on meeting days and times can also be found in the Chinook Observer and Surfside Homeowner’s Association newsletter.

By LYNDA LAYNE

Observer correspondent

OCEAN PARK — Janet Volchok says her ukulele group, “is like getting together with friends once a week to play happy music.”

A musician since the age of 8, Volchok wanted to start a group in Ocean Park — a group where people new to the ukulele could come to learn and those experienced in playing could come to jam. And that’s where the mingling starts. The uke pros can often be found mentoring the beginners. But the beauty of the situation is that no pressure exists.

Two of the several pros are Paul Estrella and Logan Bunbury, who assist Volchok in leading the group. Estrella helps with the beginners’ class which meets at 2:30 p.m. Mondays for an hour. Bunbury works with the advanced players from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Even though it is technically closed Mondays, the Ocean Park Timberland Library hosts these group get-togethers.

Volchok also teaches, of course, and doesn’t hesitate to walk about the room and help individuals who seem to need a little extra assistance. She has a patient, enthusiastic way about her that seems to say, “Yes, you can do this.”

There’s a lot of preparation involved in putting such a group together. Volchok sets up binders with clear instructions and easy-to-follow sheet music. Each week, she adds new songs and the players expand their collection in the binder.

And even though Volchok is about to head south for winter — six months in Huntington Beach, Calif., where she belongs to “five or six ukulele clubs,” she knows her Ocean Park Ukulele Strummers (OPUS) will be in good hands while she’s gone, with Estrella and Bunbury at the helm.

While the concept of ukulele clubs is nothing new, Volchok stated, “It’s new to Ocean Park.” She has lived here for about 11 years and because of her involvement over the years with other groups, was anxious to get something going in this, her own community, particularly because her experience in belonging to uke clubs over the years has been so gratifying and so much fun.

During her times in Huntington Beach, she jams with several clubs and groups. In one of them, she said, “We had the opportunity to play in Hawaii at the Hawaiian Ukulele Festival.”

Not only are many of the ukulele clubs active in doing gigs, they seem to exist almost everywhere, giving aspiring and already accomplished musicians a place to jam and participate in performing. One site, ukulelehunt.com, keeps an updated list of clubs in the U.S. and Canada. For example, in one of their recent updates, their map showed four clubs and groups in British Columbia, two in the Seattle area, and several in Oregon.

At the first meeting on June 26 of this year, when Volchok formed the group, she said, “There were more men than women.”

Men have kept up a strong presence, and the numbers shift as new people show up each week to join. Sometimes, there are more women, but the men never disappear.

Volchok has a supply of loaner ukes and newcomers without an instrument are handed one right off the bat — newcomers like Deborah Wells, who came to the fifth meeting. She is a personal friend of Volchok’s, who smiled and said that after Wells attended, “all she could talk about was the ukulele.”

The next day, Wells “ordered one for herself,” Volchok recalled. “That’s what has amazed me, is that people get so into it, they’ve already gone out by the next day and bought ukuleles.”

A complete beginner, Wells was excited after that first class, where another participant, Bret Loucks, mentored her. She was soon strumming along with the others.

It’s sort of an instant gratification thing. First timers at the group learn to play a song that first day and quickly, they’re strumming and singing along. It might be a song that only requires two different chords, but they seem to master it quickly, more so than they might with more difficult instruments.

The new OPUS group was invited to play at the Peace of Mind Pacific County Community Picnic in Ocean Park, just one month after the strummers began meeting. In fact, three of the 10 or so members that showed up to play that evening had just attended the group for the first time the day before. Total beginners, fearlessly strumming with the rest of the group and showing all the confidence required to be successful at a gig.

But Volchok had just called for volunteers to play at the gig. It is not a requirement of belonging to the group.

Though there are not any young children coming to the regular group meetings on Mondays, one of the original group members, Anna Wicklander of Ocean Park, brought her three grandchildren, invited by Volchok who furnished them with loaner ukes. Estrella first showed the youngest, Grant Keel, 5, how to position his finger on the frets for a C chord and he non-hesitantly began to strum along with the adults. His big sister, Kayli, 10, also gave it a try as did big brother, Easton. The Keel children were visiting from Utah. How fast they caught on is testimony to the non-intimidating nature of this instrument. They seemed to be hooked for life, which Volchok said, “Makes me feel so happy”

Soon after the picnic, she received a handmade and heartfelt thank you card from the children, that read, “Dear Janet — Thank you for bringing the extra ukuleles for us to play with the OPUS group at the BBQ.” And, “Dear Paul — Thank you so much for showing us how to play and strum ukuleles.” It was signed Easton, Kayli and Grant.

Volchok beamed as she recalled that first gig and soon after, had another gig to beam about, as the group played at a Peninsula Senior Activity Center (PSAC) dinner on Aug. 17. She is thrilled that her OPUS players are already being recognized. And sharing the joy of music has always been one of her priorities. Though this was on her mind since she moved to the Peninsula about 11 years ago, it just took a while to get that joy started up in Ocean Park.

About a year before relocating, she was instrumental in starting ukulele classes through Clatsop Community College’s ENCORE program, which offers instruction and activities for adults over 50.

She wanted to do something on her own, after moving to Ocean Park and only after a fellow member of Peninsula Players suggested she teach ukulele, did the light bulb moment shine bright. Her friend, she said, “Gave me a lot of ideas,” and so she went into action.

Since the start of OPUS, she has kept group members updated weekly on facts such as meeting times and gig updates, through e-mails. She also continues to produce new copies of chord diagrams for songs. And OPUS has a Facebook page — OPUS (Ocean Park Ukulele Strummers) which includes updates and sometimes, instructional video clips.

Volchok tells people if they’re curious about how long she’s played ukulele, it all started when she was eight years old. Someone gave her older brother (two years her senior) a uke. “He never played it, but I was always fiddling around with it. So my dad paid my brother five dollars and gave the ukulele to me.”

She watched other kids play ukes at summer camps and picked up “a lot of stuff just by watching people.”

She seemed to be a natural at becoming proficient through self-taught ventures. After two years of piano lessons, she told her parents, “Forget the lessons.” She learned to play a lot of songs by ear.

When she was a teenager, she visited her grandfather’s pawn shop in Salem, Ore. (she was living in Portland at the time.) “He had a lot of instruments there, so I’d go into the pawn shop and drool over them.” She smiled and said that on her 15th birthday, her grandfather gave her a guitar under the stipulation that she learn to play some Hebrew songs, which quickly became a reality.

Volchok has also played other instruments, including cello. “I even had a banjo,” she recalled. And, she’s been active in vocal groups, including Cannon Beach Chorus, Northcoast Chorale and during the original years of Bayside Singers. She’s also a member of Peninsula Players and has performed in several plays.

So far, it’s been amazing

Starting OPUS has been a wonderful experience, according to Volchok. “It’s amazing, the way things have evolved and how many local people in the Ocean Park area are interested in playing the ukulele.”

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