With one-year-old twins, Maureen Andary has her hands full. That has not curbed her professional activities, however. She performs along Sara Curtin as the duo, The Sweater Set, a few times a month at such venues as Millennium Stage and the Creative Cauldron. They were artists-in-residence at Strathmore, too and may also be found playing at local weddings.
As part of the duo, Andary plays the ukulele as well as the flute, guitar, banjo and glockenspiel. In her remaining free time, she teaches ukulele about 20 hours a week in groups or one-on-one.
Now Andary is gearing up for the annual UkeFest at Strathmore from Aug. 17-21, where she will play and teach.
The festival, now in its 11th year, was co-founded by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, its artistic directors.
“I fell in love with the ukulele at a concert in Texas,” Andary said. “I loved the songs. They were funny and touching. I brought (a) songbook. That inspired me to write and play my own songs.”
There are certain similarities in the UkeFest from year to year, said Fink. But every year is also intrinsically different on purpose, with new instructors and classes along with repeats.
“To keep the UkeFest running, you want to offer students a chance to learn new things from different people,” she said.
One unique event this year, according to Fink, is the appearance of Peter Luongo. His specialty is creating ukulele ensembles with multiple-part vocals and some choreography. For more than 35 years, Luongo has been the director of the internationally acclaimed Langley Ukulele Ensemble and founder of the Luongo Ukulele Experience.
He will work together with several ukulele players to perform in the UkeFest Finale, on the last night of the festival, said Fink.
Also teaching at the UkeFest for the first time will be Daniel Ho, who designs acoustic instruments and has won multiple Grammy Awards.
“Do not expect to be able to sign up for classes at this point,” said Fink, “since tickets – which went on sale in February – are long since gone. You can already buy tickets for UkeFest 2020.”
In fact, because of limited space, the organizers had to cap the attendance at 120 people.
Within the teaching structure of UkeFest, Fink said she hopes that people will fall in love with the ukulele as she did. Combining the instrument with a festival creates a phenomenal social experience, she added.
“It attracts everyone from those who want to strum a few songs on the instrument to virtuosi,” she said.
Attendants at the UkeFest classes range in age from 6 to 75 and come from all over the world. Along with its appealing, light sound, which Andary called “high-pitched, sweet and vulnerable,“ the ukulele’s size also enhances sociability.
“You can have a number of people playing it at a party, which isn’t true of the guitar,” said Andary.
What may surprise new ukulele aficionados is that the range of the instrument is not limited to Hawaiian or Celtic music, said Fink, who, in her folk duo with Marxer, has released dozens of albums.
“You can also play rock and roll, old-time, vaudeville, jazz and swing,” Fink said.
In addition, said Andary, the ukulele is considerably more affordable than many instruments. “I’m excited to share it at the UkeFest,” she added.
After the intensive classes and workshops comes the UkeFest Finale concert, which takes place Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. It includes a community mass strum-along. At press time, more than 30 people had signed up to play at the event.
That same evening, the night concert is the culmination of the 11th annual UkeFest intensive workshop.
It starts at 7 p.m. on the Strathmore Lawn at the Godowsky Gazebo. Admission is free.