Kelloggsville — When the ukulele came to Hawaii in the late 1800s via the Portugese, it was called the braguinha, or machête, according to Ukulele Magazine.
The Hawaiians quickly dubbed it the ukulele or “jumping flea” for the way fingers danced across the strings and frets in making music.
Some 140 years later, in Kelloggsville schools, music teacher Susan Iacovoni is introducing her students to the jumping flea and watching with glee as their fingers make music, albeit haltingly at first.
Iacovoni is in her eighth year teaching elementary music in Kelloggsville and in her 17th year of teaching in the district, having also taught first, second and fourth grades. She’s also the lead singer for local band Mid-Life Crisis, and she’s a big fan of the uke, as it’s sometimes known.
“It’s great for young people,” she said. “The small size and only four strings make it easy for little hands to play, the chords are simpler than a guitar, it’s great for teaching music theory and it’s small enough to transport easily.”
That last point became especially pertinent this fall.
Bring Ukuleles to the Students Due to COVID
This year at Kelloggsville’s Southeast Elementary, in the midst of COVID with students not leaving their classrooms as they typically do, she is bringing the music to them, thanks to a new ukulele cabinet crafted via a partnership between her school and Kent ISD, with a helping hand from her architect husband.
“Traveling to the classrooms to teach the lessons requires a great deal of organization as I push my cart containing my keyboard and all my music materials from room to room,” she said. “My students look forward to fifth-grade music because they learn to play the ukulele, and I was determined to find a way to transport and clean the ukuleles in a way that meets safety guidelines.”
In doing some research, Iacovoni found that ukulele carts could be had for purchase to the tune of some $600 or more. Deciding there might be a better and less expensive way, she worked with her husband, Dan, an architect, and he began measuring and drawing up plans to make a portable and functional cart.
Partnering with KCTC and KTC Students
Dan Iacovoni has been on the Engineering and Architectural Design Advisory Committee at Kent Career Tech Center since 2008, and he reached out to Larry Ridley, the KCTC engineering and architecture instructor, for assistance with the burgeoning project.
Ridley brought in instructor Barry Wackerle and students from a manufacturing class at the Kent Transition Center that included time on a CNC (computer numerical control) router. Thus a harmonic partnership was born as Barry and Larry worked with Dan’s drawings to produce a programming file that allowed the students and the machine to cut the precise patterns needed to create the cabinet Susan now uses to transport 24 Mahalo soprano wooden ukuleles to her eager and waiting students.
She added that it can easily be retrofitted to hold more ukuleles if needed. The cart also provides a file organizer that holds music folders, handouts, reward slips, her Chromebook and other odds and ends she said she needs for teaching.