A Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara employee group finds fun and melts workplace tension with ukuleles. Pictured, Sara Bousfield, Santa Clara employee wellness coordinator, at left, and Ron Ball, Santa Clara intranet web master.
Before his son was born, Ron Ball played all kinds of musical instruments: piano, guitar, accordion. When he became a father, though, there was little time for playing music.
But after a few years, his wife bought him a ukulele for Christmas. His love affair with music was reignited, channeled through the sweet sounds of four little strings.
Then he had a revelation.
“I just thought I should share it,” said the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara intranet web master.
The first meeting of the Santa Clara Ukulele Group in June 2017 drew 20 employees, eager to learn. (There are other ukulele groups throughout Kaiser Permanente.) Today, a regular group of eight to 10 ukulele strummers welcomes anyone, experienced or not. The group learns new songs and plays old favorites. They sing, too.
A Common Language
“Music kind of crosses all languages, so it’s a common ground that we all have,” said Ball. “And the ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to learn. You have four fingers and you have four strings. You don’t need any music theory for ukulele. Playing in the group is kind of like sitting around a campfire, but there’s no fire.”
Ball formed the group with Santa Clara Employee Wellness Coordinator Sara Bousfield, who at the time had just bought a ukulele of her own to accompany herself singing.
“The minute I start playing, I can feel my stress level go down, my mood changes,” said Bousfield. “Wednesdays are my best days, because I go into the club and I come out in a totally different mindset.”
The club is not a class. It’s basically a jam session “where everybody gets input,” Bousfield said. “We laugh, and it’s a fun way to start the day.”
Music for Mental Wellness
The players have advanced beyond a group tinkering away in a conference room before work, though. In December, they played a holiday party in front of about 200 employees. And they regularly play Kaiser Permanente employee wellness Live Well, Be Well festivals and farmers’ markets at the Santa Clara Medical Center.
The group plays a list of songs ranging in diversity from Van Morrison to Bruno Mars, said Bousfield. And, she said, it’s good for you.
“Playing music definitely helps with your mental wellbeing,” she said. “It helps with memory and coordination, and it has been known to reduce blood pressure.”
The best part about learning ukulele, said Ball, is it’s easy.
“If you can count to four, you’re going to have no problem playing the ukulele.”