Gwangju Blog

Gwangju Ukulele Circle – Sunshine In The Form Of Music

Spring is here. Summer is just around the corner. What could be more relaxing than the sweet strumming of a ukulele?… Maybe 10 ukuleles?

IMG_0552 The Gwangju Ukulele Circle has recently debuted as a way for folks in the community to meet up and play through tunes on a Sunday afternoon. The group is lead by local hagwon teacher, Carleen Kirksey. “I started the uke circle because I wanted to have a creative space where people, myself included, could just have fun singing and playing songs without it being watched, scrutinized, and judged. I personally wanted a safe space to practice ukulele and meet like-minded people.”

The group is open to the public and all skill levels are welcome. A song selection is posted to the group’s website before each meeting so that people can listen or practice the material before everyone meets up at the GIC for an informal jam session. Kirksey explains, “The first circles have IMG_0546gone well. There were a good amount of people who came to the first gathering who practiced the songs on the website beforehand, which made it fun to just play without trying too hard.” The first few meetings have featured a mix of oldies, like The Beach Boys and The Beatles, to jazz standards, and even indie bands such as Portishead and Fleet Foxes. As a long term project, Kirksey adds, “My goal is to bring more people to ukulele, and to bring foreigners and Korean citizens together through music.”

Although the group is not intended specifically for people who are seeking a lesson or tutorial, it is a fantastic way to become more familiar with the instrument or strengthen the skills you already have. For absolute beginners, Kirksey suggests, “My advice would be to practice, even 15 minutes a day. I know it’s easier said than done, believe me. There is no other secret to beginning ukulele, but to figure out how to read chord charts and pick a song and play. There’s music all over the internet. So play!”


Carleen has been living and teaching in Gwangju for seven months, but she has been playing the ukulele for four years, “I like the ukulele because there is almost no seriousness given to the instrument. It’s a relatively small instrument and many chords only use one or two fingers. It is fairly easy to learn. Although there are serious players out there, anyone can learn to play ukulele. I believe music should be in everyone’s life and ukulele lends itself to that belief.” She grew up in Garland, Texas where she developed a strong background in musical theatre before moving to New York City to be a professional actor. She has written and performed in several acts in the United States since that time, and is now frequently seen performing around Gwangju with her band Galaxy Hotel or solo. “I really like when people make new things. There are a few artists out here who are regularly writing and performing new music at Speakeasy and Dreamers (Daein night market), and it’s nice to be able to get that every Saturday night.”

If you’ve always wanted to learn an instrument, but never had the time, now is the perfect opportunity to pick up a ukulele at your local music shop. The next circle is Sunday, May 28 at 1:30 at the GIC. More information is available at:


(Photos courtesy of Courtney Dudley and Carleen Kirksey.)