First Night State College Ukulele Class Offers Chance To Strum In The New Year

Jan 1, 2020

Mike Holzer, president of the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective, tunes an instrument before a class that was part of First Night State College Dec. 31, 2019.
Credit Anne Danahy / WPSU

Locals and visitors to State College had their choice of ways to welcome the new year Tuesday — from seeing art created out of ice to learning to play the ukulele. 

Ice was one of the themes at First Night State College — whether that was flying down a frozen slide or watching ice carvers do their handiwork.

“We start by building the wall. As you can see, this one has 20 blocks of ice in it," said James Kowalczuk, an ice carver for DiMartino Ice. He was making a bear family out of a giant block of ice on Allen Street as families stopped to see.  

James Kowalczuk, an ice carver for DiMartino Ice, makes a sculpture Jan. 31, 2019, on Allen Street, as part of First Night State College.
Credit Anne Danahy / WPSU

“They’re just really pretty. I really like them," said Ojal Bhattarai, who watched the sculptures get built with a friend and her mother, Nellie.

“It’s so fun to see the creativity the artists bring," Nellie Bhattarai said. "And doing something in ice is a challenge, so it’s really a joy to be here.”

Music was another option on New Year’s eve — either listening or learning to make it.

Mike Holzer is president of the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective and self-described chief ukulele evangelist.

“We are giving a ukulele crash course," Holzer said. "Kind of ukulele 101.”

That includes everything from how to hold the instrument to how to pluck a string.

“We love bringing the joy of the instrument to people,” he said.

The club had about 30 ukuleles novice could borrow, while other people brought their own.

“Brand new. Out of the box.” Dean Graziano, of Warren, was talking about his ukulele, which was a Christmas gift from his wife. He says he’s learning to exercise his brain.

“It is something you better keep active. I’m retired, and today’s my birthday. Does that mean anything?” Graziano asked, before sitting down to learn ukulele.

Alyssa Ridder, a Penn State graduate student in theater, also brought her own. She and others described the uke as a happy instrument.

“Oh, my gosh, these people are so wonderful," Ridder said. "I just thought it was such a great experience for everyone, and I’m so impressed with everyone for picking it up so fast.”

So fast, that after learning how to strum and play a few chords, it was time for a few songs. And, that's how the hour-long class ended.