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Carolina Ukulele Ensemble brings students together through music

(from left to right) Robyn Ardern, Isabela Peterson, Anna Keener, Helen Abbott, Chiazo Agina, and Matthew Wasyluk pose with their ukuleles on Sept. 24.

Helen Abbott, a member of the Carolina Ukulele Ensemble, likes to call it "Carolina's happiest club."

The Carolina Ukulele Ensemble became the world's first collegiate ukulele ensemblein 2010, and is now an audition-based group that performs at gigs and at an end of semester concert. 

Abbott, a junior global studies major, said she enjoys the fun atmosphere the group provides for its members.

“It's definitely sort of a funky little Tuesday night activity that always sort of is a stress relief," Abbott said. “Not every club needs to be about something related to your resume. I think it's important to like take time every week to just have fun, and why not play the ukulele every week with a group of other college students?”

How to join

President of the Carolina Ukulele Ensemble Chiazo Agina said she first joined the ensemble during the fall 2019 semester. The ensemble has 14 members this semester — eight of which are active, she said. 

Agina, a senior computer science major, said that the group taught her about the power of using fun to motivate college students.

"When you're only meeting once a week for a music group, it's very easy to lose focus on why you joined in the first place," Agina said. "And I think people are most incentivized to come to rehearsal and show up when they're having a good time."

Music director Matt Wasyluk, a senior computer science and statistics and analytics major, said the fall 2019 concert was one of his fondest memories with the ensemble. 

“We booked a big ballroom at the Franklin, so it just kind of felt fancy too,” Wasyluk said. “But seeing the room packed and really excited to be there and listen to us — that was a cool experience. I think that's one of the best responses to a musical performance I've ever seen that I've been a part of.”

This fall, the ensemble accepted three new members through its in-person auditions held on Sept. 1. The club is also offering rolling virtual auditions.

“(Auditioning is) super low stress, especially with the video,” Wasyluk said. “You can always send us your best take. But really what we're looking for is just a little bit of ability to play the ukulele and then some confidence to show us what you're into musically.”

Agina said she hopes to encourage members to try new instruments and roles they may not be used to. In addition to singing with ukuleles, the ensemble also uses the bass and the cajon to perform their songs. 

“When I joined the group, the leadership at that time encouraged me to take a solo.” Agina said. “I was super nervous, but it was actually really rewarding to end up soloing an entire song with the group, so I'm trying to like sort of pay that energy forward and make sure that new people also feel comfortable trying new things.”

Behind the scenes

The ensemble meets every Tuesday between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., usually in Phillips Hall, Agina said. 

After accepting new members at the beginning of the semester, the group holds a song selection, where members are invited to suggest two songs they would like to perform, she said. 

Once five to seven new songs are added to the setlist, whoever gets their song selected arranges it and teaches the whole group, Agina said. The other half of the setlist is composed of old songs that have already been arranged and performed — like the group's '80s medley.

Wasyluk said the group starts with easier songs and makes sure everyone knows the chords. They listen to the original recording of the songs and decide if there is anything they want to change about it. From there, they assign people to the bass, the cajon and the solos, he said.

To try out for Carolina Ukelele Ensemble, auditionees should submit a one-minute video of themselves singing a verse and chorus of a song through a Google Form

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