Sometimes, little instruments can teach big lessons.
Two years ago, when Julia Habinger was a freshman at Notre Dame Preparatory School, she took a class with Tom Peri, a beloved biology teacher. At the end of the year, Peri’s students wanted to surprise him with something nice.
“Everyone did something great,” recalls Habinger. “It’s kind of competitive!” Habinger, along with a couple friends, wanted to do something “really unique” – so they decided to write him a song.
Habinger had a ukulele at home; when she found out that three other girls in the class had ukuleles of their own, they joined forces. “He was very surprised,” she laughs.
That fun activity blossomed into something new the following year, when Habinger, along with her friend Hannah Schiavone, founded the Ukuladies, a student-lead musical group.
“There’s so much joy in the hallways of NDP already, but they thought this would be another way to bring in music and celebration,” says Steve Pomplon, a religion teacher and NDP’s social services director who is also the group’s faculty advisor.
Though the initial impetus for founding the group was just to get girls together to play music and have fun, with guidance from Pomplon and other NDP educators, Habinger and her friends quickly realized their hobby could become something bigger.
“We thought, ‘What if we could combine music with service?'” recalls Habinger. They started exploring their options and set a goal for themselves: by Christmas of last year, they wanted to perform a thirty minute concert as a part of an outreach event.
Their first – very successful – concert at Brightview Senior Living in Towson was structured like a variety show, with songs mixed with scripted dialogue. Everyone loved it. The Ukuladies were asked to perform again and began scheduling shows at other local assisted living homes.
“We see the impact this music can have on people and the environment,” says Pomplon, who backs up the Ukuladies with his own guitar. “We play our show then hang out for another half hour, mingling and spending time and hearing stories.”
Both the concerts and the post-concert time are fun and valuable for everyone. “We love to play for the residents because music transcends age,” says Habinger. “The residents have truly amazing life stories and can teach us so many valuable life lessons.” The visits aren’t all stories of the old days, either. “They love to hear us dish about what’s new in our lives, too. ‘When is prom? Who are you taking?'”
“NDP is all about educating young women to transform the world,” Pomplon explains. “This is a great opportunity for students to build and interact with people they wouldn’t normally interact with. When you’re joyful, passionate and engaged, you can make a huge difference, a huge transformation.”
By the end of last year, over eighty girls had joined the Ukuladies (though most concerts only feature ten or twenty performers). The members have all levels of experience – and a ton of fun, both at their lunchtime practices and at their interactive concerts.
For Habinger, being a part of the Ukuladies has been inspiring and eye-opening. “Getting out just as much as you put in, even when you don’t expect it, is what makes service and outreach so amazing,” she says.
For more information about Notre Dame Preparatory School, please visit www.notredameprep.com.
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