Toronto’s secret ukulele players have discovered one another.
Every Wednesday night they gather at the Dominion on Queen, a pub in operation since 1889 on Queen Street East in Corktown.
“Is there anything that looks tricky?” co-host Steve McNie asks 75 or more players filling the main room, each holding a ukulele.
“Yes!” several reply at once. “E flat minor six.”
“OK, everybody play D minor,” McNie responds. “Sneak the little finger onto the second fret of the first string. Move everything up one fret — that’s E flat minor six.
“It’s a passing chord,” he adds. “Don’t play it if you don’t want to.”
McNie is leading the opening workshop portion of the Corktown Ukulele Jam, a fringe event fast gaining popularity.
Usually, the session takes place in the rear room to smaller numbers but this night a three-piece gypsy band leads the assembly in Django Reinhardt songs.
The lights are low, the atmosphere thick with concentration. Violin, guitar and accordion players stand on a riser at the front as streetcars roll regularly past the windows.
“Keep those fingers bouncing on the fret boards,” guitarist David Dunlap says, demonstrating a percussive strum. “If it’s too wet there’s no space between the chords.”
The idea that solitary uke players across the city might be hankering to play together came to McNie last winter when he started bringing the childlike instrument to jam sessions with his friend David Newland. They were taking a break from their ’80s cover band, the McFlies, when McNie said, “Maybe a larger group of people would be into doing this.”
They built a website, torontoukes.com. They placed an ad online. They set Jan. 14 for their first meeting and more than 30 people showed up.
Weekly gatherings have continued since, with more than 200 people of all ages counting themselves members.
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