BRENTWOOD -- Ernie Macintyre and his fellow performers are a jovial bunch who obviously relish what could be described as, well, happy music.
Put them together in a room and out come the ukuleles, the instrument of choice for these seniors who occasionally break out in song as they strum away for a visitor.
"As you get older you don't want to lose your music," says Macintyre, 68, who has found in the ukulele a satisfying way to continue making music with a full-bodied sound as the range of his singing voice becomes more limited.
As director of the Brentwood-based Delta Strummers, Macintyre is sharing -- and in many cases reintroducing -- the pleasures of this lesser-known stringed instrument.
Formed in 2003, the group that began with two couples now has 26 members who perform at churches and retirement communities from Discovery Bay to Antioch.
The only prerequisite for participating is an enthusiasm for music -- individuals who never have played an instrument before learn how to hold and strum the ukulele as well as read sheet music in a beginners' class that prepares them for the weekly group practices.
Tom Jones was one of those neophytes when he joined Delta Strummers about a year ago and his knowledge of the ukulele was limited to what he had seen of crooner Tiny Tim's falsetto performances on television variety shows in the 1960s.
All it had taken was one visit to a band practice for him to become a believer,
"I was captivated by the music," said Jones, 65, charmed by how well the full sound of ukuleles played in unison complemented the melody that members' voices carried. "This is neat! I'd like to do this," he said, recalling the experience.
Although he initially struggled to master the strumming technique, with some coaching from Macintyre, it wasn't long before the Discovery Bay resident caught on.
Then there's John Davelaar, who once had a nodding acquaintance with the ukulele but hadn't played it in four decades.
A television documentary about the resurgence of interest in the instrument inspired the 66-year-old Brentwood resident to dig his own out of the garage and have a friend restring it. Davelaar then heard about the band and earlier this year began attending the beginning lessons.
The popularity of the little guitar-like instrument that Portuguese immigrants brought with them to Hawaii in the late 1800s has waxed and waned over the years. The ukulele was in vogue during the 1920s, recaptured the public's fancy after World War II, and was introduced to another generation of listeners in the 1990s, particularly with the success of Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World."
The ukulele comes in different sizes and shapes, and ranges in price from as low as $40 for mass-produced models made in China to $800 and up for a design hand crafted from solid koa wood.
With just four strings on the standard styles, it's easier to play than the guitar or banjo, said Macintyre, who thinks the relatively gentle learning curve enables people with varying levels of experience to play together and still sound good.
Surprisingly, perhaps, fans note that there's a lot of written music that accommodates the ukulele.
"With just three chords you're able to play just about any popular music over the last 40 years -- everything from any Elvis tune that was ever played to any country song currently on the charts," Davelaar said.
To underscore his point, Macintyre strums a few bars of "Home on the Range" and then, barely skipping a beat, starts singing the 1959 hit rock 'n' roll single "Teenager in Love" before winding up with the ballad "Danny Boy."
The instrument apparently lends itself to playing second fiddle on TV and radio commercials as well: Davelaar points out that a number of them feature ukulele music in the background.
"It's very easy listening," he said.
Yet another plus is the instrument's portability -- there's no problem taking a ukulele on a plane, Davelaar said.
For Jones, the biggest appeal is being able to accompany himself on an instrument for the first time in his life.
"I don't plan to give up at this point," he said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.
Who: Delta Strummers
What: A singing ukulele band
Where: Summerset IV's community center, Brentwood
When: Practices are 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, resuming in early September. Concerts begin again in August.
Info: 925-813-0996 or www.deltastrummers.org