Strumming, singing – and surprising

Sarah Bonn and John Thorp know all about their chosen instrument’s reputation: It’s small. It can only play a few types of songs. It’s not serious. But with each pluck of the string, the Carolina students work to prove that the ukulele can do far more than audiences think.

“It has a rep as kind of a joke because it is kind of dinky and small,” said Bonn, a senior. “So that’s why it’s fun for us to be able to take it and kind of flip it into something new.”

Bonn and Thorp are co-presidents of the Carolina Ukulele Ensemble, a group of 20 students who rehearse weekly and perform on and around campus. Now in its fourth year, the Ukulele Ensemble has grown large enough to hold auditions, a big change from the days when Thorp and a few friends got together to jam every now and then.

“The ukulele has gotten a lot more popular in the past few years,” said Thorp, a senior. “It’s a lighthearted instrument. There’s something completely innocent, but simultaneously complex and interesting about it, I think.” The Carolina Ukulele Ensemble performs a range of music well beyond traditional ukulele tunes, including covers of songs by Elton John, The Avett Brothers, Vampire Weekend and many more.

“We try to be all over the place with our music: ’70s rock, and then out of that we got to ’90s R&B,” Thorp said. “It goes across genres and across different musical styles really, really well. It’s something that I think resonates with a lot of people.”

Bonn is a communication studies major and entrepreneurship minor. Thorp is a music and interdisciplinary studies major and chemistry minor.

Story and video by Rob Holliday, Office of University Communications
Published January 20, 2017