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How Gainesville Middle teacher is using ukuleles to empower students
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Gainesville Middle School's Heidi Castaneda sings and plays her ukulele during music class Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

Each week the sound of ukuleles reverberates from Dory Moore’s classroom at Gainesville Middle School. 

Moore, who teaches music and chorus, believes playing an instrument isn’t for the elite but for everyone. 

This year she has incorporated ukulele lessons into all of her classes. 

“We have so many kids who are so talented that just can’t afford music lessons,” Moore said. “I’ve got kids that just surprise me. They completely get it and are amazing at it, and they’re a first-generation player. It just blows my mind.”

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Dory Moore, who teaches chorus and music at Gainesville Middle School, plays a ukulele along with students Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

Moore was first inspired to bring ukuleles to her classroom after hearing a radio interview with a person who played pop songs on the ukulele. She said it made her realize the instrument’s versatility.

After obtaining funding from the school, she bought the instruments for her classes. 

The ukuleles were an instant success. 

For many students, it was their first time touching a ukulele. Heidi Castaneda, an eighth grader, said playing the instrument “exciting.”

“Knowing the songs and playing them, it’s really cool,” Castaneda said. “It’s kind of hard at first, but you get better and better. You have that moment with your ukulele where you’re just playing it and it’s fun.”

Sofia Swanson, one of Moore’s chorus students, said she first thought the ukulele would be a boring instrument to play. It didn’t take much time with it before she changed her mind.

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Gainesville Middle School's Sofia Swanson sings and plays a ukulele along with music Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, during music class. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Once I started, and learned how to play and express myself through it, it was actually fun,” Swanson said. “Just knowing the song and being able to keep up with it was like, ‘Yea, I can do this.’”

Jackson Electric Membership Corp. recently awarded Moore with a grant to use in her classroom. Moore chose to put the $1,034 toward purchasing more ukuleles. Soon every student will have one in hand during her lessons. 

“My goal is just to make kids fall in love with music,” Moore said. 

Teaching students of different musical skill levels isn’t a walk in the park. Moore said the biggest hurdle was during the initial lessons. 

“Every kid isn’t going to learn at the same pace,” she said. “They do eventually get it.”

She started off teaching four basic chords and strumming techniques. After that, they began to play along with pop songs and Christmas music on YouTube. 

Maggie Davidson, one of Moore’s eighth graders, said she enjoys hearing the familiar music and strumming to it. 

She encourages kids who are interested in picking up the ukulele to “just go for it.”

“It can be painful at first, but your fingers will toughen out,” Davidson said. “Don’t just give up if you don’t understand the chords at first, and keep up with the speed because you’re going to get better.”

Moore said she was surprised at how well her students take care of the instruments. They treat the ukuleles like babies, careful not to throw them or hang them upside down.

“I told them, I’ve got 15 babies, this is all of them and you will respect them,” Moore said. “And they really do. They get it.”

Moore’s chorus class will play three songs on their ukuleles during the upcoming Christmas on Green Street event in Gainesville. 

“I hope my students just remember that they were successful at something they’ve never tried before,” Moore said. 

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Dory Moore, who teaches chorus and music at Gainesville Middle School, plays a ukulele along with students Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers
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