________________________________________________

CANOGA PARK - They sat in a circle, each singing and strumming a ukulele.
"Close your eyes, and I'll kiss you, tomorrow I'll miss you, I swear that I'll always be true."
The performance would never win any Grammys, but that was not what this gathering was about.
"Calling me a musician - that's a stretch," said Harold Osmer,
a 51-year old from West Hills who has a woodworking shop.
"Mostly, I'm just having fun. I'm just having a good time."

Osmer leads a group of ukulele enthusiasts called the Canogahana Players,
who jam in the backroom of the Guitar Merchant store in Canoga Park
every second and fourth Sunday of the month.
Some have been playing for years but still consider themselves beginners.
For Kai Gillespie, a 51-year old interior designer from Simi Valley,
playing the ukulele evokes fond memories of her childhood in Hawaii.
She also finds the gentle rhythms soothing.
"For me, it's like therapy," Gillespie said. "I lost my Mom, and this was just a place
to come and let it all out - music is good for the soul."
Bob Hansen, 82, joined the session after serving on his son's pit crew the night before.
"My son, he races Sprint cars and that's kind of violent," Hansen said.
"This is kind of quiet and easy, so it relaxes you."


The ukulele, which looks like a child-sized guitar with four strings,
was invented in Hawaii in the 1880s.
It was based on two instruments brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrants.
The instrument is easy to learn and very portable, said Larry Rosenberg,
a 60-year-old lawyer from Lake Balboa.
"I have instruments in my office that I use at lunchtime," he said.
Lori Apthorp, who invented the ukulele strap called the "Uke Leash," said many people have "low expectations" about what a ukulele can do, but the instrument should not be underestimated.
"Even though it's an easy instrument to learn, it's not limiting,"
Apthorp, 52, of Brentwood, said. "You can make it as complicated as you want -
you can play classical music, you can play jazz, you can play the blues,
you can play all these different kinds of music."

On Sunday, the Canogahana Players stuck to a repertoire with an easygoing vibe,
playing such songs as the Beatles' "All My Loving," the Beach Boys' "My Little Deuce Coupe,"
Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," and Randy Newman's "You Got A Friend In Me."
Every now and then, Osmer would concede the music was "a little rough"
but everybody enjoyed simply playing.


"Nothing beats playing with other people," he said.