You hum it, Miss, we'll strum it

29th June 2007 at 01:00
FEW CHILDREN are likely to include George Formby singing "When I'm Cleaning Windows" on their iPod playlists, but at Blagdon Hill primary in Somerset, all the key stage 2 pupils are being introduced to the ukulele.

Teachers at the 19-pupil school decided that clarinet lessons were too expensive but wanted a small alternative, so the children have been learning to strum the four-stringed instrument that Formby made his trademark.

"The children aren't particularly big and the ukulele is quite small," said David Hawkins, a key stage 2 teacher. "They can hold it easily and it is easier to get a sound out of one than a clarinet."

The instrument is enjoying a revival: the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, founded in 1985, has become a cult band, performing music of the Sex Pistols, Gloria Gaynor and Prince among others.

The Blagdon Hill repertoire includes traditional numbers such as "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" and "You Are My Sunshine". So far, teachers have steered clear of the Formby classic, which is better known by the pupils as the soundtrack to a popular computer game.

Lessons are provided by Chris Beattie, of Somerset's music services. "We focus more on its Hawaiian background, rather than the George Formby image," she said. "And it encourages singing. Children can play chords and sing along without being able to read music. So they can achieve results much quicker than with other instruments."

Ten-year-old Elizabeth Hawkins is aware that her school music lessons are slightly unusual. "People are a bit surprised when you say you play the ukulele," she said. "But it's sort of like a guitar, only a little bit smaller."

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