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Center hosts jams, displays instruments made by Dan Caldwell through mid-July

Why are ukuleles so popular? Maybe it's because they are relatively easy to play, or maybe it's because they "are easier to move than a piano," said Dan Caldwell, whose handmade ukes are among those now on display at the Milwaukie Center.

PHOTO BY TINA JOHNSON - Dan Caldwell strums a few bars on the Spam lunchbox ukulele that he made. "I wanted to do the display case because I was impressed with Dan's ukuleles. He told me he had five of them and I wanted to see all of them. I thought other people would enjoy seeing them, too," said Tina Johnson, recreation coordinator for the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District's Milwaukie Center.

Caldwell has been making ukes for about a year, noting that the instruments piqued his interest when he saw cigar box and license plate ukuleles.

Caldwell uses rosewood for the fret boards and maple for the necks on his ukuleles, adding that he enjoys "the connection of different materials that will provide a musical sound. As long as you follow specific measurements, almost any combination of materials will work."

Caldwell's favorite ukulele is one he made from a Spam lunchbox.

"Everybody has a soft spot and a story about Spam. I lived in Hawaii and Spam is a staple, so a uke made with a Spam lunchbox has class," he said.

Learning to play

Caldwell first tried to play the ukulele when he was stationed at Wheeler Air Force Base in Hawaii in 1972, but said his "limited aptitude did not bring very good results."

In 2013, he was back in Hawaii, and had the time to try playing again.

"I still don't have the aptitude, but have more time to practice. Building a few ukuleles makes me play more. I can hear how they play, so I practice more," Caldwell said.

He thinks the current popularity of the ukulele might stem from the fact that more people travel to Hawaii and hear the instruments being played. Ukes also are not expensive to buy and almost anyone can learn to play, he said.

Caldwell attends the ukulele jam sessions at the Milwaukie Center. The groups welcome new members at all skill levels, including beginners.

"The social gatherings for our jam sessions are fun, and (the ukulele) is a great tool to keep your memory functioning," he said.

"The Milwaukie Center offers so many activities for a wide variety of interests. Local residents should check out what is available and go find your niche."

String along

What: Ukulele display and weekly jam sessions hosted by the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District

When: 6-7:15 p.m. Wednesdays, 9:30-11 a.m. Thursdays

Where: Milwaukie Center, 5440 S.E. Kellogg Creek Drive, Milwaukie

More: People with all skill levels are welcome to attend the ukulele jam sessions. Call 503-653-8100.


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