The Langley Ukulele Ensemble continues to offer students education and travel opportunities in music under the leadership of Paul Luongo (centre)

The Next Generation — Langley Ukulele Ensemble turns 35

The Langley Ukulele Ensemble is kicking off a year of celebration for its 35th anniversary with a special gala performance on June 4

The Langley Ukulele Ensemble is kicking off a year of celebration for its 35th anniversary with a special gala performance on June 4.

The ensemble’s founder, Peter Luongo, said the event will be a “classy affair,” with wine served to attendees when they walk into the Preston Chevrolet dealership, which will be cleared of cars and turned into a kind of ballroom.

The event, billed as  The Next Generation will also serve as a CD launch party for the group’s new recording of the same name. The title signifies the passing of the torch from Luongo to his son, Paul, who took over directing duties from his father three years ago.

Luongo said the performance by school-age children will feature a new repertoire and arrangement that is of his  son’s own making and different from his own.

“Three years on, it’s taking on Paul’s identity,” he said.

Luongo started the group in 1981 while teaching Grade 5 and 6 at West Langley Elementary, where he says he was hired on the condition he would start such a program, after taking a course in ukulele instruction at UBC.

Since then, the program has expanded to include students from around Langley and the Lower Mainland, including some members who come from as far away as North Vancouver to practise every week.

The June 4 event will accommodate over 150 people and will include an auction during the intermission. One of the items up for bid will be a private performance for the highest bidder, who will be able to have the whole ensemble come to his or her house or place of work for a concert.

Doors open at 6:15 p.m. for the June 4 gala at the dealership on the Langley Bypass.

Tickets, which include a copy of the new CD, can be purchased for $50 online at LangleyUkes.com or by phone at (604) 340-8537.

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Ukulele Fever

■ The first article published in the Langley Times about Peter Luongo and the ukulele — also known as a “funny little four-string guitar-like instrument” according to the author — ran April 29, 1981.

At that time, Luongo was a teacher at West Langley Elementary School, and Langley was one of only two districts in B.C. with a comprehensive musical program based on the ukulele.

In the article, Luongo said the ukulele was becoming “more than just something you can strum and sing with. It is becoming a solo instrument.”

Today, Langley is known as the “ukulele capital of Canada” and advanced students in the Langley Ukulele Ensemble travel around the world to perform.