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Naperville ukulele group embraces unique, underrated instrument

After a few near misses, it was ukuleles that brought Lisa Snow and Kevin Lilly together.

Yes, that lovable, distinctive-voiced guitar wannabe used by artists as diverse as ’60s geek Tiny Tim, Hawaiian favorite Don Ho, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder is how the Naperville couple met, fell in love, and It helped him get married.

Both are members of a ukulele group that practices every Saturday at Musical Expressions, a music school in Naperville.

The group has a history of more than a decade and performs at nursing homes, festivals, libraries and other venues. The ages of the approximately 25 members mostly range between 40 and 80.

This is where Snow and Lilly finally meet.

Lilly, 58, of St. He grew up in Breese, not far from St. Louis; Snow, 56, grew up in Petersburg, near Springfield. As they grew up, they were often in the same environment.

“We kept missing each other,” Lilly said. “We went to Southern Illinois (University) Carbondale and were there at the same time for two years, but we missed each other.”

“His friends were living in the same apartment complex in Naperville when I was living there,” Snow said. “We didn’t know each other then.”

But after joining the group…

“The band members wanted us to sit together,” Snow said. “They would move so that we would be side by side. So I have to thank a few of the other band members.

“Apparently they knew something we didn’t.”

Lilly and Snow got married a year and a half ago in Hawaii.

A sign on the door of Musical Expressions music school in Naperville lets everyone know that the ukulele band is in action on Saturday.

“We had a minister who played the ukulele and sang,” Snow said. “Everything was perfect.”

In some Saturday sessions, one of the members is a little younger than the others.

Quirin Polensky, 18, of Sycamore, is a freshman at Kishwaukee College. He played the cello and took part in the choir in high school.

On Saturdays, he drives to Naperville with his grandparents, Mary Helen and Bill Polensky, to play with the band.

“Everyone is really nice,” Quirin said. “I can also spend time with my grandparents.”

Many of the songs performed by the group were written before their time; “I Got A Name” by Jim Croce, “Do You Believe in Magic” by John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, and various Beatles tunes.

“He’s an old soul,” Mary Helen said of Quirin. “They have a wide variety of musical tastes.”

Carl Hix is ​​the leader of the group and took over from his brother Peter in 2015. The Hix clan, well known in local music circles, have been performing in the area since the 1940s.

He says the instrument is underrated and should not be viewed as a novelty or something limited to Hawaiian music.

“The ukulele has a beautiful sound,” Hix said. “And it’s pretty easy to play. You just need to push down a string and use a few fingers. Once you synchronize the strumming, it becomes fun.”

He and bassist Ruth Schneider sit at the front of the class and provide direction. They are serious about music, but Hix has a lot of fun joking and laughing with the members.

“These people are dedicated and really good people,” he said. “They are very loyal about coming every week. They are ready to challenge the weather conditions. “They are willing to learn and want to get better.”

The strummers love the songs they play.

“This band loves a lot of songs from the 60s and 70s, and so do I,” Hix said. “I’m a huge Beatle fan. “I can do every Beatles song possible, but I don’t want to overdo it.”

Quirin Polensky, 18, of Sycamore, who traveled to Naperville with his grandparents to play with a group of ukulele players, laughs during a recent session.

There are some songs in the band’s setlist that initially don’t seem like they would fit the instrument. The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” for example, is the song that stunned Hix when he first heard the band play it.

“This song has no guitar part, it’s all piano,” Hix said. “Somehow it works. A good song is a good song.”

Lilly said she enjoys playing in front of a crowd, even if it’s a small gathering at a nursing home.

“It’s great if we can brighten their day,” he said. “This is a happy thing.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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