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Striking a Chord

The public library has typically been regarded as a place where patrons are asked to keep their noise at a minimum, so as not to distract guests who are silently reading for pleasure or researching material for a project. However, one library in West Columbia has deviated from this protocol recently with sounds that may conjure images of relaxing on a Hawaiian beach instead of sitting in a quiet library.

These sounds are produced by hands strumming ukuleles as part of a new music club at the Cayce-West Columbia Branch  of the Lexington County Public Library System under the direction of University of South Carolina alumna Taylor Collier. Collier holds two master’s degrees from USC in music history (’19) and library and information science (’23), and currently works as an assistant in the library’s reference department where she organizes adult programming.

My goal with this program was to teach patrons about the composition process to foster a more intimate connection with music, as well as providing a basic understanding of how Western pop music is organized.

— Taylor Collier, MM (’19) and MLIS (’23)

The Ukulele Club began this past September, usually gathering once a month for two hours each session. From the start, members were taught key information about the instrument, such as its history and its parts. When it was time to learn how to play, members learned basic chords using lead sheet notation, with Collier explaining musical concepts such as tonic and dominant chords. As the club met more often, members progressed from playing simple, two-chord songs to more complex compositions; they were also able to self-identify the concepts that Collier had taught them.

This was an impressive feat considering that most of the participants had no previous musical training. Yet, the club was willing to learn, and Collier was open to modifying her teaching style to accommodate their needs.

“I relied heavily on critical pedagogical principles, going into each session with a general idea, but mostly following what students wished to do each session,” Collier said.

These sessions culminated in a final project where the club was tasked to compose their own group song. The lyrics for this song, entitled “You Mean the World to Me,” were written by a woman for her granddaughter studying abroad. Although English was not the lyricist’s primary language, Collier decided to keep the lyrics unchanged to preserve the woman’s true voice for her granddaughter. The rest of the group also agreed that the grandmother’s message should be clear and heartfelt, carefully selecting chords, rhythms and melodies that would best fit the song’s lyrics. Finally, the song was crafted and recorded, with Collier adding extra sessions to facilitate the recording process.

In just five months, the Ukulele Club managed to evolve from inexperienced amateurs to stirring songwriters, and Collier couldn’t be prouder of their achievements. “This was a fantastic experience and I encourage anyone with musical training to get out there and try similar programs!”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.