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Burb's Eye View: Volunteer's spirit strikes a chord

November 15, 2011|By Bryan Mahoney

I called Jim Fryerto make an appointment for his ukulele class. By the time the phone clicked off, I was committed to a class and a private tour of the most historically diverse cap gun collection I’ve ever seen.

Funny how things work out.

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FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Jim Fryman's name throughout.
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I sat in on Jim’s class last Wednesday, where his distinctive barbershop warble can be heard echoing through the halls of the Joslyn Adult Center. On this particular afternoon, five of his students accompanied him through “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Amazing Grace” and “Beautiful Brown Eyes.” Though they strummed through the selections alphabetically, the “Beer Barrel Polka” was summarily skipped to avoid a dreaded mid-song key change.

Here, musicians play ukuleles of all stripes, shapes and styles. They fill the community center’s performance hall with a staccato beat of chords and croons. And for four years, Jim, the one-time Air Force Band trumpet player and amateur genealogist, has shared his craft with ukulele players of all skill levels. Most never pick up the instrument before they meet him.

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He came across the gig by accident — after seeing an ad for the class in the Joslyn newsletter, he called to inquire about meeting times.

He was told they were still looking for an instructor.

Jim, never one to miss a volunteering opportunity, happened to mention he knew some chords.

“It went downhill from there,” he said.

No experience? No worries. Jim will sit you down with your instrument and teach you three chords — with those, your repertoire will grow exponentially.

“In July of ’09, I came into this class not even knowing how to hold the thing,” said student Jon Lee.

“And now he’s surpassed me,” Jim chimed in.

At his home, Jim showed me one ukulele I didn’t get to see at the Wednesday practice. This one was smaller than the others he had, and he picked it up in Hawaii. Its thick, plastic strings are easier on his fingers than the metal strings of a guitar, and it’s altogether different than his former instrument.

“It’s harder than heck to try and sing while you’re playing the trumpet,” he said.

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