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Ukulele is music to the ears of the Peconic Landing group that won first Strawberry Festival talent show

It had the appearance of a high school yearbook photo or, more likely, a high school reunion photo.

Dressed smartly in their light blue Peconic Landing Ukulele Club shirts, club members had positioned themselves for a group photo when the request was made, “Say ukulele!”

That prompted smiles and chuckles.

The ukulele players at Peconic Landing, a Greenport retirement community celebrating its 20th anniversary, have had a good deal to smile about. The club, in its fifth year, has proven to be a success, offering the community’s senior citizens opportunities to play an instrument, socialize and share some laughs.

“It would be a much, much duller place if it wasn’t for the ukulele,” Bob Feger, one of the club’s lead organizers along with Peter Zwerlein, said during Wednesday evening’s practice at the community center’s library. “We come out of this like kids, bubbling and laughing and smiling.”

The club’s genesis can be traced to Mr. Zwerlein, who got the idea from a video featuring a ukulele group. Currently, the club has about 20 members, 10 of whom are original members, he said. In addition to the weekly Wednesday practices, Mr. Feger works with players on Friday afternoons. Most of the club members are in their 80s. They range in age from the youngest, Mr. Zwerlein at 71, to the oldest, Walton Shreeve, who will turn 101 next month.

Khrystyna Prokopchuk, 21, who is from Kyiv, Ukraine, has been practicing with the club at the club’s invitation. She works as a server at Peconic Landing, where she arrived in May as part of a work and travel program. Her mother had given her a ukulele three years ago.

“The camaraderie here … it just draws you in. I really enjoy playing and we’ve gotten so good.”

Emily Youngquist

“It not only involves people in the group, but when we play in the auditorium, we play songs that [audience members] can all sing while we’re playing onstage,” said Mr. Feinstein, who has the distinction of having been Peconic Landing’s first resident. “So it encompasses everybody here at Peconic Landing, which is the nicest part of it.”

Harvey Feinstein, who wore a ukulele lapel pin as one of the original club members, is the only player who joined the club having had prior ukulele experience. He learned how to play in Hawaii, where he used to spend winters.

Emily Youngquist recalled her experience joining the club four years ago. “Peter and Bob were giving classes for beginners, and they recognized my talent immediately,” she said, laughing in jest.

On a serious note, she said: “It’s manageable. I’ve never taken music lessons, and it’s something I could deal with, you know, and learn. And then the camaraderie here. I mean, it just draws you in. I really enjoy playing and we’ve gotten so good.”

How good?

The club competed in the Mattituck Lions Club Strawberry Festival’s “North Fork’s Got Talent” contest June 16.

“I’ve never been in a show like that,” Ms. Youngquist said. “So we were a little nervous and getting up the steps, you know, it was like 14 steps to climb up there [onto the stage]. So that was the first challenge. After that it was easy.”

Right before the club performed at the festival, Mr. Zwerlein encouraged the audience, “Please, if you have any inkling to snap your fingers, clap your hands, tap your toes or sing, feel free to do it.”

With that, they played a 1954 folk song, “San Francisco Bay Blues.” The spectators obliged, clapping in rhythm and responding with a hearty applause afterward.

“It just worked,” said Mr. Feger.

After it was announced that the ukulele-playing seniors had won first place, some of them danced to the playing of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.”

The group poses for a photograph. (Credit: Tara Smith)

The club donated the $500 in prize money to Community Action Southold Town and a Peconic Landing employee fund, said Julianne Wenczel, Peconic Landing’s public relations coordinator.

“I’m glad that what we started off five years ago now has ended up here and I’m sure we have more to do,” Mr. Zwerlein said Wednesday as players strummed their ukuleles. “I know we have more to do.”

One slight adjustment was noticed during the practice when a Beatles song was played. In a concession to the players’ ages, they altered the wording for “When I’m Sixty-Four” to “When I’m Ninety-Four”.

“Having been a teacher, it gives me goose bumps to hear them play, you know, because they couldn’t do this, and now they can,” said Mr. Feger, who noted the club is preparing for an Aug. 6 concert at Peconic Landing.

Asked how his musicians have been progressing, Mr. Zwerlein said, “Better and better.”

First place doesn’t lie.

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