Ukellective: Uke Players Jam Out at the 5Cs

Ukellective is a new Claremont Colleges group dedicated to playing the ukulele. Founded by Eliza Longnecker PO ’14 and Adam Buchholz PO ’12, Ukellective strives to unite the ukulele players across the colleges and to diversify music culture on campus. Both Longnecker and Buchholz feel passionately about the ukulele and want to share it, not only with fellow ukulele players among the 5Cs, but also with the entire 5C community. Ukellective currently has six members but is in the process of expanding.  

“We are looking to explore where the ukulele can take us,” Longnecker said.

Longnecker and Buchholz emphasized that playing the ukulele is not just a hobby, but a musical calling. The founders humorously recounted the origin of the ukulele through an original tale about a village in the land of Yore that was saved from complete destruction by the beautiful music of the ukulele. 

“We are carrying on the tradition of that village from the days of Yore. Because if there isn’t a Ukellective here, then who knows what could happen?” Longnecker said.

Both Longnecker and Buchholz played other instruments throughout their childhoods and early teens, and they were first exposed to ukulele communities in their hometowns. Buchholz, who played the drums before coming to college, began playing the ukulele in December and explained that the instrument is prominent in his hometown of Olympia, Washington.  

“I come from a long and ancient tradition of Ukellectives. There is a strong Ukellective culture in Olympia that I think is really important to bring to Southern California,” Buchholz said.  

Longnecker, who is from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, explained that she was part of a Ukellective during her senior year of high school. After coming to Pomona and starting her own Ukellective, Longnecker realized the positive and creative impact that playing the ukulele can have on communities.  

“Before I was called to the ukulele, I started learning the guitar and played piano in elementary school. The senior year, that is when the [ukulele] calling came,” she said.

“I started playing the ukulele because I wanted to play awesome indie songs,” said Andrew DeJong PO ’13, a member of Ukellective. “Yes, the first song I learned to play was ‘Elephant Gun’ by Beirut. And yes, the second one was ‘Postcards from Italy,’ also by Beirut. It’s an easy instrument to pick up with or without prior music experience and it’s super easy to jam on. Playing the ukulele is like tickling in your arms a swaddled and smiling baby who gurgles out tender, technicolor harmonies.” 

Longnecker explained that Ukellective’s practice environment is very collaborative, and she emphasized that the group members focus on sharing with each other and appreciating music together.

“We are pretty open to whatever people want to bring, as long as we continue to make music. If you want to picture our ideal meeting environment, it is sitting in an outdoor space with blankets in a circle or some sort of formation. Just sitting on the ground playing our ukes,” Longnecker said.  

Longnecker expressed that her biggest ukulele inspiration is Israel “IZ” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole, who is best known for his cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” along with Julia Nunes and Beirut.

“A lot of artists that I like to listen to have some ukulele tracks, but there are only a few true ukulele players in popular music,” she said.

While the ukulele is developing as an increasingly popular instrument, it still receives little exposure within popular music culture. Both Longnecker and Buchholz aspire to traverse the dominant music culture on campus with the emergence of Ukellective.  

“I just found it was time for a cappella to have a little bit of competition,” Buchholz said.

Longnecker spoke enthusiastically about expanding the ukulele culture on campus.

“Hopefully next year we will have a SCUKFest (Southern California Ukulele Fest) to rival SCAMFest,” she stated.   

Ukellective is not exclusively for experienced ukulele players—many members of the group, including Buchholz, have been playing for less than a year. The practice time is open to beginning ukulele players who want to practice in an open and accepting environment. 

“I started playing ukulele this past summer, just teaching myself while I was working on campus, [and] after a couple months you start to feel like you hit a wall in terms of progression.  Now, though, it’s great to learn stuff from the other members, share songs and work together on covers. Ukuleles are essentially the best string instruments to pick up and play in a group: four strings, simple chords and a silly, carefree sound,” member Adam Russell PO ’12 said.

Ukellective had its debut at Album Covers and plans on playing at various venues on campus throughout the semester. 

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