Love, Recovery, and Gratitude: Notes from the Ukulele Community


Here are a few more stories and thoughts from Ukulele readers. Readers wrote in to Ukulele magazine about falling in love with ukulele, recovering from injury, remembering Auntie Genoa Keawe, and the life-saving power of ukulele. We love hearing from you!  —

Farewell to the Dunes 

The Persian poet Rumi once wrote, “May the beauty of what you love be what you do.” Since my childhood, I have had a passion for Hawaiian culture and musical traditions, and in 2008, after a profound experience at the Lanikaula kukui grove on Molokai, I commissioned my first ukulele from Jade, one of the island’s finest instrument makers, and took my first lesson with Kimo Hussey. 

Falling in love with the happy music and uke lifestyle inspired me to host events annually at Westwind on the beautiful Central Oregon coast (Tunes in the Dunes) and the islands of Molokai and Oahu (Uke Ohana), where we were able to create magical ukulele communities. We have always encouraged musical/artistic expression, community-building, and the awe of aloha. These musical traditions have continued through individuals and ukulele groups, sparked marriages, and included the beginning of families. Now, after two long years holding the festival online (thank you Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel for helping make that happen!), this September we will gather again in person in Oregon for the grand finale of Tunes in the Dunes!

I want to express my deepest gratitude to our beloved community of artist/musicians over the years: Jim D’Ville, Kate Power and Steve Einhorn, Lono Music and his Halau Mele Nei, Craig and Sarah, James Hill and Anne Janelle, Guido Heistek, Aaron and Nicole Keim, Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward, Casey
MacGill, Walt Keale, Kalei Gamiao, Bryan Tolentino, and Steven and April Espaniola. Andy and Pam Andrews and Bryan and Nancy Holley have been key supporters of Tunes in the Dunes, along with the Hood River Trio, Kerri & Debi, Suz & Friends and the Diggers. What an inspiration you are!

The ukulele’s embrace is deep and wide, and the enthusiastic community of Tunes Nation and Uke Ohana over the past 12 years has opened our hearts. I hear music in the air!

—Melany Berry. Otis, Oregon

Tragedy and Triumph

Three years ago, my girlfriend and I were backpacking around the Greek islands, me with my Kala concert in a lightly padded travel bag. I played often at sunsets on the beaches and during breaks in hikes. It was always fun to sing a few songs amid the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, on a rocky trail on the island of Rhodes, I slipped and fell backwards and was not hurt—because the ukulele broke my fall! Unfortunately the ukulele was crushed! We still had three islands to visit, so on each I scoured the shops hoping I might find a uke, but I never saw one. We left Greece, sad that we no longer had our uke, and sailed to Istanbul, where we planned to stay for a few days in a hostel. On our second day there, at the Grand Bazaar, we were in a curio shop looking at stuff and what do I see, but a plain brown ukulele amidst a bunch of wooden carvings. There was no label inside, no “brand” on the peghead. But it had four strings and tuned up nicely and it sounded OK. It cost me the equivalent of $5, and it lasted the final six days after we went back to Greece, which is where I left it. 


—Michael O’Connell. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Auntie Genoa Keawe seated playing ukulele

A Memory of Auntie Genoa

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Hawaii, where I attended Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel’s first ukulele retreat in their new home. My introduction to Ukulele magazine was last summer’s issue [2021] with them on the cover! The friend I was staying with picked it up for me, not knowing I had already taken classes with them. I was also out almost every night listening to local music both on Kauai and Oahu. I got to sit in twice on Kauai and did two open mics during the retreat. 

I have been playing music all my life—piano, oboe (mistake), guitar, and then ukulele since 2012. I was in a hula halau [hula school] in the Washington, D.C., area playing with a band from 2004–2007 and a second time from 2014–2017. I have yet to find an ukulele community here in Delaware; just a few random players.

I wanted to send you a photo I took of Auntie Genoa Keawe [who was featured in the Summer 2022 issue]. This was taken at the Waikiki Marriott in February 2003. We were inside because it was raining and they could not use the porch. By then, I knew of Auntie Genoa, and we went there specifically to see her. 

—Robb Mapou. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Foggy Otis with his ukuleles

Ukulele Life Raft

I’m not exaggerating when I tell people my life is better after having welcomed the ukulele into it. I’m a now-retired high school teacher (algebra and geometry) and full-time uker who studied guitar since childhood. When I was 42 years old (2008), I had emergency heart surgery: a quadruple bypass accompanied by an implanted pacemaker/defibrillator. During the surgery an artery for my heart was harvested from my left wrist. My left wrist and thumb have been numb ever since. 

I tried playing guitar for a few years after my surgery but it was too painful. I played music for most of my life, and now I couldn’t anymore! A black cloud settled over me for a few years until I began noodling on a cheap soprano uke I had around the house. The combination of small-sized neck and wider spaces between the strings felt pretty good. I was hooked.


I retired from teaching in 2013, and two years later my wife and I sold our house in New Jersey and moved to Upstate New York, where I devoted myself full-time to making music. By 2016, I was playing my uke at over 100 gigs a year in the Hudson Valley. At the start of 2020 I was teaching ukulele at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson.  

My relationship with the ukulele wasn’t due to my love of island music or even the sound of the instrument itself; for me the uke was a life raft that carried me back home to music. 

I’ve been coming out of my shell and have met some wonderful musicians. I’ve even been invited to perform at a Beatles music festival this August. A band is required for the show so I’m happily fronting my first full band since back when I played guitar in the early 2000s. Since George Harrison’s love of the uke is widely known, it made sense to me to plan an entire set around George’s solo work!

—Foggy Otis. Orange, Connecticut