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Royal City Ukulele Ensemble celebrates 10 years of spreading musical joy

In this instalment of Following Up, we touch base with the Royal City Ukulele Ensemble about its upcoming 11th season
2019 03 13 GT – Whats Up Wednesday Cynthia K Music – TB 01(1)
Musician and teacher Cynthia Kinnunen Troy Bridgeman for

There’s a lot of music in a little ukulele.

In celebration of it’s 10th season this year, The Royal City Ukulele Ensemble (RCUE) hopes to spread all the joy the cheerful-sounding instrument has to offer.

“Coming out of COVID-19 was challenging for the ensemble so it great to be back in person, together, and making music again,” said RCUE director Cynthia Kinnunen.

“Everything had been moved online previously and we did our best to keep things going. But music-making is best when it happens in-person.”

Kinnunen said playing in an ensemble offers participants the opportunity to build skills and feel the joy of making music in a group.

“Everyone enjoys being back out in the community again. There’s been music making at various markets and we love going back to the retirement home where we used to visit at the Village of Arbour Trails,” Kinnunen said.

The Royal City Ukulele Ensemble runs from September to June. Registration for its upcoming 11th season will open in July.

Currently, there are 30 members in the ensemble.

“I usually have to cap it based on how much space we have available to us. It really depends on who can accommodate us for performances of that size,” Kinnunen said.

"It is open to anyone (age 18 and older) and at any level. We’ve had many members stick around. It’s great to see young members and those well into their 70s.”

Kinnunen said some members had never played in instrument before joining the group.

“This is a learning ensemble too. I’m always trying to teach musical skills, which I affectionately call the ‘spinach’ of what we are all about,” she said.

“Being our 10th season this year, we’ve been together a long time. I’m so impressed to see how many members have advanced and grown in their musical skills over the years."

The ensemble is also very passionate about its fundraising initiative which began five years ago.

Helping schools engage with music, RCUE gifts classrooms with free ukuleles.

“We collect our stipends that we earn from our various community performances and some of the ensemble members have also done personal fundraising as well. Then we pull together about $3,500 that enables us to buy a class a set of quality ukuleles at a local school,” Kinnunen said.

“Right now, we are getting ready to do this for the fourth time to a fourth class this year, which is really exciting. This has always been a very special thing for the ensemble as a little side community project.”

Kinnunen said the goal to get ukuleles into the hands of students who want to make music, but due to a lack of arts funding, access is limited.

“As an ensemble, we feel very strongly about music-making and the importance of it in schools. The ukulele, as a learning tool, is one of the best instruments to learn on and teach with,” she said.

“You can teach melody, harmony and rhythm. We feel very strongly about trying to help some of the schools that maybe can’t afford instruments. I wish we could outfit every school in the whole district.”

RCUE has donated ukuleles to schools within the Upper Grand District School Board including Primrose Elementary School, and last year, Grade 6 students from Laurelwoods Elementary School – both in Dufferin County.

“We take applications through the board. And as soon as we have enough money, we choose who has the strongest need. Most of the schools we have given to so far, have been rural schools that have maybe struggled a bit more in terms of capacity,” Kinnunen said.

Kinnunen said the ukulele offers great potential.

“There’s so much you can do with it. It's a very accessible instrument, especially for those coming into music later in life, or for those who haven’t played in a while,” Kinnunen said. “There’ also a really rich cultural history from it’s roots in Hawaii, and also having been influenced originally from a Portuguese island, Madeira.”

Kinnunen also offers community and online classes, workshops, and teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Faculty of Music.

On May 14, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., RCUE will host the 'Mixed Ukes' event at Royal City Brewing.

"This is an event that we have held a couple times in the past. We perform, but we also invite people to bring their ukuleles and come out and jam with us,” Kinnunen said.   

The free event is open to all ages. For more information and to register, visit here.

"You don’t have to register, but if you do, I will send a PDF of the song book that you can bring along and play with us. It's a lot of fun and we get to show off a few of our pieces,” Kinnunen said. 

Kinnunen said there’s wonderful fun that can be had with a ukulele.

“And it's so versatile,” she said.  

“It’s like a chameleon. You can do so much with it.”