The story of the Iron Mango Orchestra (IMO) embraces lots of change, but that’s probably not surprising given that the group has roots in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, where some would say the tides shift often and winds blow restless.
Back around 2003, several local couples who shared an interest in Hawaiian music got together to explore their island-driven passions. Their gatherings celebrated songs and harmonies sung in native tongue to a ukulele backing. As the group’s membership and musical tastes shifted over the years, native lyrics morphed into English and gave way to hapa influences. Group membership expanded and the “Iron Mango” moniker was adopted.
In short order, the singers and players of IMO geared up for several iterations of the annual Eugene Asian Festival. The festivals featured performing Hawaiian singers and dancers invited by IMO to excite fundraising for their “Ukes for Kids” campaign.
Through their efforts over the last several years, IMO has given out nearly 900 ukuleles. Early “Ukes for Kids” fundraisers drove many of the donations. These days, if teachers contact IMO expressing interest in starting uke classes, they become strong donation candidates. New avenues have also opened up for groups like hula clubs, ukulele bands (like at North Eugene High School), and special programs (like uke-crafting in the Springfield High School woodshop program).
Pat Hottenstein is a long-standing member of Iron Mango and is married to Bev Hottenstein, IMO’s president. Pat is also a skilled cabinet maker. More than a decade ago, he took a uke-building class from an early IMO member. When that member moved away, it was a no-brainer that Pat would take over the classes. He upgraded the coursework and relocated instruction to his shop.
Pat’s coursework and his ukulele jigs also played a big role in establishing the uke-building program at Springfield High. Classes are in their fifth year, and four to five dozen students have participated. That’s a lot of ukuleles!
And those ukuleles have made for some pretty fine music!
Photo by Greg Burns