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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ukulele Players Bring the Sound of Music to the Joint Genome Institute

ukuleleWandering the halls in Building 310, the busy afternoon lunch buzzes are often interrupted by the intriguing music coming from Joint Genome Safety Coordinator Stephen Franaszek’s office. Once or twice a week, the Ukulele Club gathers together there to practice and play a variety of music selections.

Club founder Franaszek started playing two years ago when a friend from Berkeley Lab took him to the Berkeley Ukulele Club. There, they handed Franaszek an ukulele and a chord chart and by the end of his first day he was playing “something resembling a song.” He instantly became hooked because the instrument was very easy to learn and be comfortable with.

Shortly after he joined the Berkeley Ukulele Club, Franaszek brought one of his ukuleles from home and started playing during lunch. Terri Bartolome, the Safety Administrator, heard him and his ukulele from down the hall and began playing with him, rekindling the childhood musician in her as she used to play while growing up in Hawaii. Lorenza Gibson from Procurement had always wanted to play, and when she heard ukulele music playing at work, she was instantly drawn to it and joined in. That is when Franaszek along with Bartolome and Gibson decided to form the JGI Ukulele Club. Other regular members include Leila Hornick and Kristen Taylor from Informatics.

For over a year and a half now, Franaszek has been bringing in ukuleles to his office for the club and anyone else who has the desire to learn and play a tune. He keeps three or four in his office, but has another seven working ones at home, not to mention two that he is fixing up. He said he really likes getting vintage instruments that are dirty and beat up in order to repair them and make even better sounding instruments than they once were. He has so many because each one plays different and has its own voice.

He believes the ukulele is an incredibly easy instrument to learn and is extremely enjoyable. “It is an instrument for anyone,” Franaszek stated. “It is really simple and fun, highly recommended if you like music. It is a lot less complicated than a guitar, which has more strings and chord combinations. It also is a lot smaller, making it easier to handle and to take on travels.”

The Ukulele Club enjoys playing a variety of music aside from the traditional Hawaiian music associated with the instrument. Each member has their own particular strengths and preferences, Franaszek explained. For example, he said, he enjoys playing old swing tunes from the 1930s, while Gibson has a beautiful voice and can play really difficult chords, and Bartolome has a rhythm section with a Hawaiian twang that goes great with duets.

Go here to watch a video of Franaszek.

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