Your Town Friday: Musical treasure in a Noblesville basement

Noblesville, Ind. - For this week's Your Town Friday we're taking State Road 69 north into Noblesville, the county seat of Hamilton County. It's where 61,000 Hoosiers live.

The centerpiece of downtown Noblesville is the Courthouse Square. The old jail, now a museum, once housed Charles Manson as a teenager. Several buildings like it are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Some names from Noblesville you might recognize include IndyCar driver Conor Daly, and if you're into fitness, Tracy Anderson. Olympic diver and gold medalist David Boudia hails from there, too.

We've visited Noblesville before, but this time we went into a basement downtown where sweet music is literally being built.

Geoff Davis can pick out the strumming of ukulele strings in his sleep. Ukulele playing runs deep in his family, but he wanted to do a little more.

"About 20 years ago or so I decided I wanted to learn to build ukuleles and I did a lot of experimentation and built a lot on my own," said Davis.

An IPS elementary school teacher at the time, Geoff won a Lilly grant to jet to Hawaii.

"I graduated from Hana Lima ‘Ia Ukulele School in Honolulu and then I studied there with some of the master players."

If you're going to go to ukulele school, Hawaii is the place to go.

"Ukulele was brought to the islands to Hawaii in the late 1870's from Portugal," said Geoff. "In 1915 there was a  World's Fair in San Francisco and it caught on like wildfire. A lot of people blame Tiny Tim, the performer that did the kitsch ukulele act for killing the ukulele. I don’t know if that’s true or not. He was a phenomenal musician. It was an act. But anyway it became the cliché tacky instrument. It went under the bed with the accordions and the banjos."

In the early 2000's an online community started to build.

"And then the Beatles retrospectives all came out and everybody learned the Beatles wrote their music on ukuleles and carried them everywhere so that swell started again."

After teaching elementary school for 33 years, Geoff is now retired, but he isn't really.

"I’ve been part of the arts scene in Noblesville for years and it’s so fantastic to finally be retired and be able to spend all day immersed in the arts community here in Noblesville, which is pretty vibrant."

Tom Duncan, a fellow musician, says, "Geoff really knows his stuff, let's put it that way!"

Duncan is one of Geoff's ukulele students at GB Davis Folk Art, learning to build his own instrument .

"What’s really amazing is most people come in without any skills," said Geoff. "Tom’s the exception."

Take Beth Trump for instance.

"I’ve never played an instrument," said Beth. "I don’t know music. I don’t know anything!"

The course is 40 hours and you can take it all at once in a week, or spread it out like Beth is doing.

"I just love that I’m building my own ukulele! I’ve never worked with power tools. I’ve never done anything like this before and Geoff is just walking me through it, so I really love it."

You don't need any experience or talent but you do need to be an adult to take Geoff's class. Click here for more!

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