DENVER — Twenty years ago, Gary Jugert found love at a music shop.
"I bought a ukulele at a secondhand store and back then there weren’t any books or classes so I had to teach myself how to play ukulele. It turns out it’s a very fun and exciting instrument that you can share with other people," Jugert said.
He began teaching lessons and even opened up a ukulele repair shop, though he says he was not a naturally musical person.
"I didn't start music seriously until I was 35," he said.
Still, in 2012, Jugert created the Rocky Mountain Ukulele Orchestra. It was a huge hit until the pandemic silenced its 100 or so musicians in March.
"We instantaneously could not meet anymore and so several of us decided, hey, what are our alternatives for getting the group together?" Jugert said. "And we tried all of the various platforms. The problem was there’s a tiny bit of a lag on Zoom classes and because we play instrumental — ensemble music — it doesn’t work without post-editing. I said, 'Well, why don’t we meet on YouTube?'"
That is how this silver lining came to be. Each morning, Jugert heads to his spare bedroom where people from all over the world log on for his lessons.
He said 90% of the people who log on are 55 and older, and 80% are women.
He's become such a hit, he now teaches six 45-minute classes every day.
"I just love it," Jugert said.
His students say this is about so much more than making music.
"It’s just such a good social outlet. I retired a year and a half ago so I don’t see my work friends anymore," said student, Jeri Sampson. "It’s been a real good social thing for me."
This may not be the orchestra the musicians envisioned, but thanks to Jugert, it's become everything they need.
"People need something to do right now. They need quality education. Musically, it’s hard to get right now. I think with the challenges music teachers are facing in music education, why not do it?" Jugert said.
This story originally reported by Molly Hendrickson on TheDenverChannel.com.