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Cooley students master the ukulele

Ukulele 'the perfect choice' for middle school musicians
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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When Cooley Middle School teacher Stephanie Sugano was scheduled to teach "Music Appreciation" last year, she decided her students should learn a musical instrument and felt the ukulele was the right fit.

Principal Karen Calkins bought a class set of ukuleles and said go for it.

"For this age group, the ukulele was the perfect choice," Sugano said. "It has been a very popular class since then."

There are 31 seventh and eighth graders enrolled in the class - about 20 percent of Cooley's student body are enrolled in a music class on campus, Sugano said. She has taught the school's band and jazz band for the past 12 years.

One of those students is seventh grader Anna Ostrom, who often volunteers to perform solo renditions of songs during class.

"I wanted to try something new," Anna said. "I play piano, guitar, trombone and clarinet."

Classmate Jeramiah Nagy also has experience playing multiple instruments, including the bass. But he enjoys the ukulele more.

"I like the ukulele," he said. "It's just fun."

Their teacher says students don't need prior experience to learn the ukulele, an instrument she considers ideal for people of all ages and musical interests.

"I love how the ukulele can be used in many different ways," Sugano said. "You can accompany yourself singing. It teaches you how to read music, understand music theory, play melodies and perform solo or in a group setting. You can play a variety of music on this instrument: pop, folk, classical, jazz."

On a recent afternoon, her students strummed away on their instruments. They played "Aura Lea," "Scarborough Fair," "Eight Days a Week," "Heart and Soul" and more.

"I'm impressed. They're good," said instructional aide Shelli Linsenbach, who hadn't visited the class since December.

The grandfather of a Cooley student - who lives in Oregon - heard the class perform in October and was so awed by the talent, he bought 25 ukuleles with cases and tuners for the students, Sugano said. He is also having a ukulele made for them by ukulele maker Mya-Moe.

The ukulele class, along with Cooley's band, will make their public debut by performing the National Anthem at a Sacramento River Cats game in May.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.