Striking all the right chords... A 24-year-old's night with the ukulele lovers from Bishan

By Jeslyn Goh 

Months ago, I was casually scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I spotted The Straits Times article and video on The Bishan Ukers. A ukulele jamming group, founded in 2010 and now  consisting of over 100 seniors, The Bishan Ukers meet every Thursday (7 to 9pm) at Bishan Community Centre (Bishan CC) for a night of strumming and singing. In the video, a senior was swinging his arms with gusto and singing with nary a care in the world. His uninhibited display of joy grabbed my attention, and I knew right then that I had to meet these musically inspired seniors.

A few email and WhatsApp exchanges with one of the founding members Stella Tan (she’s 66… who says seniors aren’t tech savvy!) later, I had a date with The Bishan Ukers.

Told to join the Ukers at the jamming session in a room tucked inside Bishan CC’s reading area, my colleague and I could hear faint singing and strumming sounds even before we reached the reading area. Brimming with excitement and curiosity, we followed the music and found almost 40 orange-clad seniors singing and playing their ukuleles. It was only 6.30pm, yet the room was already abuzz with laughter and music.

The exuberance in the room was palpable. The seniors’ energy was contagious and I found myself humming along and bobbing my head to the catchy tune. It had only been minutes since I met the uke-loving seniors but I was already thinking: “This is where I want to be when I’m a senior!”

bishan ukers

The Bishan Ukers having some strumming good fun.

bishan ulkers 2

Stella (2nd from the right) and friends lead the singing every week.

Wasting no time, I began snapping pictures. The seniors were extremely hospitable, often flashing a smile my way. When the group took a short break, I grabbed the opportunity to approach one of the seniors for a short interview. Earlier on, he was dancing enthusiastically to the music and had caught me snapping a picture of him. He surprised me by turning his head towards the camera and flashing a smile, much to my delight.

Mr Krishnan, the spry senior who impressed me with his vivacious personality, is 79 and sports a sweet smile. However, behind that smile was a man who had battled depression, stomach cancer and heart problems. Last year he suffered a stroke that rendered him immobile.

“I was so fed up with life, I wanted to die. I locked myself in my room and refused to see anyone. I kept crying,” he said. His story broke my heart and while I was thankful for his honesty, I struggled to offer him words of comfort.

Sensing my struggle, Mr Krishnan said: “Sometimes, all we need is a listening ear… we just need someone to listen to us.”

And just like that, I felt I was given a nugget of wisdom I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Thankfully, Mr Krishnan discovered The Bishan Ukers which pulled him out of despair. “Music keeps me going. Thursdays are the best days of my life!” he exclaimed.

bishan ukers 3

Camera-ready Krishnan, 79, smiles for the camera.

Then the break ended and the next thing I knew, my colleague Kimberly and I were invited to the front of the room. “Come, sing with us!” Stella requested. I was a little hesitant but as the saying goes YOLO! – you only live once! I plucked up my courage and we belted out a well-known Chinese song (小人物的心声) while the seniors provided musical accompaniment. It felt amazing, and I was transported back to my secondary school choir days.

That night, we sang, we laughed, and we even danced (yes, I danced with the seniors!). With every strum and pluck of the ukulele, I could feel my spirit lift and my troubles melt away.

While joining The Bishan Ukers started out as another assignment for me, the Ukers showed me that ageing can be a fun and happy experience. More importantly, they are proof that friendship transcends age, as aptly captured by the lyrics of one of the songs they sang, titled Best of Friends:

“Strangers once, now newfound friends 
Those precious memories never end.”

My first ever singing “performance”!

I had so much fun and I would join the Bishan Ukers again for a song and a dance in a heartbeat. That night, I left Bishan CC with newfound friends, and an immensely grateful heart.

group photo

Some of The Bishan Ukers strike a pose after their jamming session.

Jeslyn is a member of the Corporate Communications team at MOH Holdings.

Article published on: 1/12/2016