By Heidi Swedberg/ Photos by Vic Hamm

Who-What-When-Where-Why-How in one sentence: The Kamloops Ukulele Orchestra has wrapped up its fourth annual festival under the waxing spring moon at the Sorrento Centre in British Columbia, Canada, to the delight of about 160 campers, and have declared it a rousing success.

Want to know more, perhaps a few details about the setting? Situated beside Shuswap Lake where brave bathers (including instructor Stu Fuchs) may take a bracing swim, the Sorrento Centre is just plain lovely. The facility, run under the auspices of the Anglican Church of Canada, is a rustic retreat from the noise of the city. Accommodations include comfortable rooms and plenty of space for campers with RVs or tents to pitch their homes away from home. “We like to think of it as a destination event,” says Vic Hamm, playfully adding, “There’s nowhere else to go!” Camp food is served with pride, especially fruits and vegetables from the center’s farm located “just up the road,” and the kitchen is happy to accommodate special dietary needs. As to the when, pre-equinox is an ideal time in British Columbia, as it is not too hot, cool at night, and the summer plagues of insects, fires, and smoke have yet to materialize. However, the cherries ripening on the trees might tempt a camper to linger longer.

A fine day to learn ukulele outdoors in paradise.

Here’s more of the who-was-there: first and foremost, members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Kamloops, (who also facilitate some of the evening jams) and secondly, people who have attended previously. The camp sells out almost immediately, so if you are not in the loop, you might miss your chance to sign up. Local instructors Tina Hebner and Debbie Korn were joined by Aaron and Nicole Keim, Victoria Vox, Stu Fuchs, Jim D’Ville, Daniel Ward and (yours truly) Heidi Swedberg. Workshops were numerous and diverse, starting at 9 a.m. and going until dinner time, after which there were two nights of instructor concerts (with unusually good sound!) and/or late-night jams, open mics, and general merriment.


Jim D’Ville (white hat) works his magic.

Crossing campus, one would think they had entered a fictional utopian paradise. Lupine, delphinium, and peonies compete for most brilliant and fragrant. Smiling faces nod warm greetings and sounds of people singing and strumming quietly together rise from every quarter. How can this be? I know we are in Canada, but really…. Such relaxed happy people, true harmony, metaphoric and literal? WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?!?

One word: Organization. (Maybe two words: Good. Organization.) Who-What-When-Where-Why-How all comes down to a pair of who’s: Nicolette Eadie and Colleen Nielsen. They are the backbone of the club, and by extension, the festival. Daniel and I were lucky to have Nicolette and her husband Vic Hamm as our chauffeurs. An artist and retired educator, Nicolette keeps her art and love of sharing alive and glowing in her everyday life. Ferrying us from the airport to the Centre and back again, we had time to stop for tea, conversation, and a sampling of native Saskatoon berries from their garden, where I got the backstory which put everything into perspective.

Nicolette and Vic toast with ice cream (and maybe a little wine). Photos by Vic Hamm.

A ukulele circle was begun in 2012 by Colleen Nielsen and Awna de Haan to fulfill their need to make music with others. Within about a year the group had expanded beyond being able to play in living-rooms. With this growth came the desire to define themselves. “We had great expectations,” Nicolette explains about their impressive moniker. When they were paid their first honorarium for playing at a senior home the check was written to the Ukulele Orchestra of Kamloops. Determined to not let their $25 windfall go to waste, Nicolette and Colleen were pressed to find a bank which would open a no-fee account with such a small deposit. They landed at the Bank of Hong Kong, which required them to have a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and a board. Thus, by necessity, their organization was formed. 

Nicole Keim’s singing workshop—everyone’s favorite class!

Delegation is an art and a gift, one that Nicolette knows how to give. She created a “Committee Description and Sign Up” sheet that describes all the club’s needs and allows members to step up to a well-defined plate. The wording is kindly and inviting “Please note that by having more than one person on the committees, members are still able to take vacations or get otherwise distracted by life. We hope you will find committees that are a good fit for you. Consider signing up with someone else from the outset.” Committees include song leadership opportunities, refreshments, mentoring, even a “Sunshine Committee” to “acknowledge members who have suffered personal loss, injury, or illness by sending a card with condolences.” most important is the membership committee, which creates the agenda for the Monday night meetings and posts it on the UOK blog, where it is accessed by the members. The agenda includes any order of business to be addressed, as well as the songs to be led and designated leaders, so members can load up their iPads or print their song sheets in advance. These templates are in themselves works of art, and Nicolette is happy to share them with interested parties who contact her through the Ukulele Orchestra of Kamloops website. 

The final song we sang at the camp goodbye gathering, led Nicole Keim, encapsulated the zeitgeist. “Let the Work I Do Speak for Me.” The song, which will be the title track to Aaron and Nicole’s forthcoming album, raised goosebumps and tears. A completely personal, subjective Who-What-When-Where-Why-How: I loved the 2019 Kamloops Festival because the organization made it easy for everyone to make the most of their gifts and grow the joy that making music together brings.

That’s a LOT of happy campers!