Members of the WhittleCukes enjoy playing their ukuleles.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

A GROWING Whittlesea ukulele group is helping residents connect to their community and form new friendships under COVID-19 restrictions.

Since Melbourne restrictions limited indoor gatherings, the 22 members of WhittleCukes have met every Monday at 10.30am at the rotunda in J.W. Towt Park, Whittlesea, to play and sing together.

WhittleCukes founder and instructor Cathy Edwards organises the group’s weekly sessions via Zoom during lockdown.

“Many of them have been support to each other particularly during the COVID time,” she said.

“A lot of them have found that it’s been very relaxing, incredibly heart-warming and good for their souls to play and sing together, and of course playing an instrument is really good for your mind and coordination.”

Ms Edwards organises a second group in Bundoora and hopes to start a third.

The groups also gather with other musicians from across country and metropolitan Victoria in what is called a ‘muster’, where participants all play the ukulele together.

WhittleCukes play at Whittlesea’s J.W. Towt Park rotunda each Monday morning.

The biggest muster in Whittlesea welcomed almost 200 musicians.

Ms Edwards said the increased interest reflected a wider trend of growing ukulele popularity.

During lockdown in April, Australia saw a surge in musical instrument sales, with the ukulele becoming Australia’s most imported instrument, overtaking guitars by about a quarter.

“The ukulele is very easy to play so you don’t have to have prior skill,” Ms Edwards said.

“I would say there’s four strings and you’ve got four fingers so it’s simple and very affordable.”

Ms Edwards, who owns seven ukuleles, said people could buy a good ukulele for about $40.

Playing a musical instrument has also been shown to have dramatic long-term benefits for people aged 60 and older, boosting memory and cognitive functions including verbal fluency and the speed at which they’re able to process information.

“I think everybody should play ukulele. I’ve run choirs and music groups for years and I think this is the most beneficial to retired people,” she said.

“The first lesson you can play a song, so there’s not many instruments you can do that.”

Ms Edwards said anyone was welcome to wander past and listen to the group play at the rotunda on Monday mornings. She’s also taking expressions of interest for new members on 0450 679 870.