ZEPHYRHILLS — Chyrisse Tabone describes the ukulele as having a certain mystique, symbolizing a happier time.
“For some reason the ukulele symbolizes no pressure,” Tabone said. “I have to be perfect when I play the piano or when I play the guitar, but with ukulele you can make mistakes. There’s no pressure.”
She said the instrument is enjoying a revival. “I think people are searching for an outlet,” she adds.
In March 2012, Tabone founded the East Pasco/Hernando Ukulele Club and since that time it has grown to 71 members. The club holds jam sessions on the first Saturday of each month.
The club met on a recent Saturday at The Commons on Pretty Pond, an adult living facility in Zephyrhills. As smiles crossed the faces of club members, they strummed and sang together.
“I started the club on a whim after joining the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society in November 2011,” said Tabone, who lives in Dade City. “Their meetings are held in Seminole and Dunedin, which was quite a drive for me. I thought maybe there would be an interest in gathering here.”
Tabone said some critics don’t think of the ukulele as a real instrument. That’s a bit annoying for the ukulele musicians, she said.
“We are a little tired of the snickers though when we tell people about the club. Most folks think of the ukulele as being a child’s toy or novelty instrument. People roll their eyes and mention Tiny Tim (a 1960s falsetto-singing ukulele player) when they hear we gather to play the ukulele.”
Tabone said many club members are professionals or retired professionals.
“Many of the ukulele players play guitar or other instruments but have discovered the joy of playing the ukulele,” she said.
Tabone is an environmental scientist who works as a consultant from her home. Her music provides a respite from the analytical data and technical statistics she deals with all day. She has been playing piano since she was 6 and the guitar since she was 7. She also plays the drums.
Tabone has been playing the ukulele for only a short time. She had played a cuatro, a Latin American instrument that looks like a small guitar, so it was a natural transition to the ukulele.
Tabone owns a handmade ukulele made by Andrew Gibson, a San Antonio luthier. She recently bought a vintage instrument, a 1930 Martin soprano ukulele, once owned by Don Ripple, a professional musician from Pasco.
“Mrs. Ripple lives a couple miles from me, and I jumped at the chance to own a vintage instrument. Vintage instruments are considered the holy grail to ukulele players,” Tabone said.
The club doesn’t perform for the public, preferring to meet for jam sessions that are for all level of players. Club members choose a variety of music. That was evident Saturday as they jammed and sang “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Jamaica Farewell,” and “Freight Train, Freight Train.”
Anyone interested in joining the East Pasco/Hernando Ukulele Club or getting information on future jam sessions can contact Tabone at firstname.lastname@example.org.