Meet the Vancouverites Bringing Back the Art of the Ukelele

The humble ukulele may be small—both in size and, arguably, popularity—on the grand scale of musical instruments. But for the hundreds of students who attend Ruby’s Ukes ukulele school in downtown Vancouver, the four-string guitar with Hawaiian roots is a point of discovery and community; neophytes and experienced ukesters alike converge here daily to pluck, sing and strum the day’s worries away.

Pictured left to right: 

“I was in a really bad accident last year, and I received so much love and support from everyone at the school. It made every day so much easier, knowing that I’d be back with my ukulele and playing again with everybody.”—Kristin Selle, makeup artist

“It’s a great group of people, but we’re not just goofing around. You actually learn a lot. You walk away energized for the next three days while you practise what you learned. It’s really exciting.”—Ronn Mostat, GM of an HVAC company

“Like a lot of people in Vancouver, I live in a condo. And the trumpet’s maybe not the best instrument to practise there. So I like that the ukulele isn’t too loud; it’s small, affordable and you can play a variety of music style on it. It’s also very portable: I can bring it with me to play for my nephews and my friends.”—Leif Royle, pedorthist

“We do numbers by Queen, Guns N’ Roses and the Beatles—really upbeat stuff—but then we’ll also do a little Bach. It’s quite the gamut. What I really like is when we get people who come up and start singing and dancing during our performances. That’s really something.”—Susan Hyde, semi-retired

“My husband is about to start at the school after hearing me play for eight years. He said, ‘Okay, you’ve done it, so maybe I can do it, too.’ My daughter-in-law has also started playing, and I have a toy ukulele that my grandkids play with.”—Patti Grann-Bell, retired

“The ukulele is very accessible. There are no expectations; it’s inexpensive. You can play by yourself or you can easily play with others. It’s a global instrument that’s only getting more and more popular.”—Daphne “Ruby” Roubini, jazz vocalist, musician and founder of Ruby’s Ukes

“I love the teaching style, because I’m an adult—not a kid—learning something new. And they totally break it down for you as a beginner, and they let you know you’re allowed to be a beginner at that age. The classes are never the same, too. I’ve taken the same classes multiple times and I keep learning new stuff, which is awesome.”—Faith Malakoff, recreational therapy facilitator

“I gained enough confidence to perform in a talent show on a cruise ship. My husband and I actually did a duet; we did a song that I learned at Ruby’s, ‘Marry You,’ by Bruno Mars. You know how they say you should do one thing a day that scares you? That was it. And I never would have done that before being part of the school.”—Shira Standfield, park planner

“I used to play guitar and sing. Then I had my brain injury, and my speech was affected and I lost my singing voice. I was very sad, but I thought, ‘You know what? I need something new and different.’ I was at a café and I saw a flyer for Ruby’s Ukes, and it was like it was calling to me. And I said, ‘This is exactly what I need.’”—Michele Smythe*, on disability leave

“You feel so good once you’ve mastered something or when you succeed after you’ve struggled in learning how to play a certain song. There’s no pressure—it’s about going there and making joyful noise.”—Andeen Pitt, advertising executive

“I had gone to a jazz concert and I saw this musician rocking out on a ukulele. I just loved it. The next day, I went to a record store on Commercial Drive to buy tickets to another show. They had a window display with two ukuleles and I was like, ‘Uh, are those for sale?’ The guy said they were, and the next thing I knew, I was the proud owner of a ukulele.”—Mona Tsui, architectural designer

Ruby’s Ukes’ 10-week ukuleles courses run every September, January and April, with workshops, a Ukulele Orchestra, the Annual Vancouver Ukulele Festival, and additional classes and workshops throughout the year.

*Name has been changed for privacy