WESLEY CHAPEL — The automatic doors at the New River Library open and close with a whoosh that gives way to the rising sound of ukuleles strumming and voices singing in a room down the hall.
Hey good lookin'
Whatcha got cookin'?
Not what one might expect. This, after all, is supposed to be a quiet place where loud voices are "shushed."
But the times, they are changing, so the first Saturday of each month has become a standing date for ukulele lovers who gather in a semi-circle to jam in the library's community room. Gail Reynolds, a retired English teacher who's found a new calling with this compact instrument, leads the group through a two-hour play list. The lyrics and accompanying chords for songs — Hello Marylou, Eight Days a Week, Blue Moon and Bad Moon Rising — scroll on a large screen so everyone can see.
There's a silly parody of James Taylor's Fire and Rain that doesn't go so well, and a better-played Rainbow Connection, made famous by Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie.
The 20 or so players come from all walks of life. All are welcome, no matter their skill level.
There's Tom Reed, 82, who majored in vocal music at Indiana University, but is fairly new at playing the baritone ukulele. For him, the jams evoke memories of playing folk music in New York City's Washington Square when Pete Seeger was a prominent figure on that scene.
"It's something to occupy my mind," he said. "I think it's good for the elderly to take up a hobby. And it gets my partner and I out of the house."
First-timer Rachel Tygart, 34, of Tampa, typically attends ukulele programs at libraries in Hillsborough county, but ventured north after finding information on the jam at New River on the Meetup website.
"I saw that it was free, and if it's free, it's for me," she said.
Dennis Pashoukos, 68, is a regular who sometimes starts off with a harmonica. He also leads open jam sessions at Ukulele Brands in Land O' Lakes.
"This is for fun — practice," he said, smiling broadly. "It's another party in the afternoon."
After years of absence, Rozanne Henrich said the ukulele brought her back to the library.
"I was just reading newspapers. Now I'm reading books again," said Henrich, who regularly attends ukulele sessions at the Hugh Embry Library in Dade City as well at the New River branch.
The ukuleles have been a draw, said Angelo Liranzo, regional manager at the Hugh Embry Library, where it started.
That library purchased instruments a few years ago, so people who did not have an ukulele could give it a try, said Liranzo, who also plays. Programs have since expanded into New River and the Regency Park Library in New Port Richey. The Hudson Regional branch is offering a six-week ukulele workshop that runs through April.
"There's been a real resurgence — one of many over the years. But it's in full throttle right now, especially around here," Liranzo said, noting that the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society is the largest in the state with about 2,000 members.
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Reynolds, who enjoys membership in the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society, understands the lure of the instrument that's mostly associated with Hawaiian music and 1960s musician Tiny Tim, but had a prominent spot in the jazz age, as well.
"I wrote a song called Ukulele Therapy," she said. "The thing about the ukulele is that it's portable. You can play it anywhere. It's a carefree instrument. A happy instrument. It's learner friendly." For a schedule about ukulele offerings and other events at county libraries, go to www.pascolibraries.org
Contact Michele Miller at email@example.com or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.