“If you have a dusty guitar, just tucked away in the closet, how would you like to learn to play it?”
Those were Barbara Lehtonen’s words when she advertised the beginning of a new musical group, now known as the “Strummers”, at Echo Centre in 2006-07.
Barbara, a well-known local musician, began offering the three-chord method of guitar playing to which a person did not need to know to read or know music.
Cheryl Hanson, a director with the Strummers, says: “My husband Glen had a guitar that just sat around; he plunked out a few runs on it every few months. I wanted him to join the Sunshine Club to meet others, so we both signed for guitar.
“I had no intention of continuing, but it turned out it was something we both could do together and I enjoy it!”
That was their musical introduction and the beginning of the group, which now has more than 20 regular members who meet in the Fir room at Echo Centre every Thursday morning.
“Although we did not qualify as knowledgeable guitar players at the time Barb decided not to continue with us; we agreed to assist with its coordination, thus avoiding the folding of the group, as no one wanted to be in charge”, adds Hanson. Glen became the director in 2009.
Cheryl also recalls that in the early years of their “humble beginnings” not many members were at hand and empty seats were visible at many of their practices. Soon after, the members of another musical group, the Auto Harps, asked to mingle with the Strummers once in order to see what it was like to play with others. This early experiment proved to be successful and now, after several years together, they have been a great addition to the Strummers.
“Cheryl and I have spent many hours over these years finding and transposing songs, printing songs, books and practising to try to get the songs right. (Cheryl does all the printing). Over the years Strummers has evolved from a beginners’ learning group into more of a social event.
“Our main goal is to have everybody enjoy themselves in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere,” says Glen Hanson, now the assistant director.
“I ‘inherited’ my guitar from my children”, says Edilia Delano, an eight-year member. “Cheryl and I used to work at Zellers, before the store folded almost a decade ago. One day she interested me in joining the Strummers, so I did, and a few years later, here I am, still enjoying my old guitar and playing along with a nice group of enthusiastic musicians.”
“June McInroy, Chrys Tromans and I began teaching ourselves how to play the auto harp at Chrys’s house back in 2008,” says Julie Rutter, a Sunshine Club member of many years. Another group member, Judy Pinchback, began playing the auto harp two years ago and soon after joined the Strummers. “I came to Port Alberni three and a half years ago and became part of the Sunshine Club, which gave me the opportunity to make good new friends. This is a great group!”
“Currently, we have 22 members who come regularly to our practices, eight of them from the original starting group. And we also have had violins, harmonicas, mandolin, bass tub and banjo,” Glen said.
Kathy Lennox, a former home care nurse and one of the original members of the Strummers, joined the Sunshine Club after retirement. “For me, the Thursday practices are the best two hours of my week. I love it,” she said enthusiastically. “And what is remarkable and wonderful is the fact that we have a group whose members are not judgemental.”
This sentiment is also shared by others in the group when they say: “We have fun playing with others and there is no pressure to perform anywhere unless we would like to. For most it is just a social time.”
Strummers members have also shared their musical talent with others in the community, such as Echo Centre’s “Special Events”, Sunshine Club Open House, and, although they do not perform at many events outside Echo Centre, they have entertained at Echo Village, Abbeyfield House and West Haven seniors’ homes. Glen adds that the group has also done occasional presentations at members’ birthday parties, anniversaries and a celebration of life.
“Things are going well, no doubt we have a great group, but at this time we are operating at full capacity.”
“We do appreciate Cheryl and Glen. They are just great,” says Julie.