Strings together for ukulele reunion

Langley residents who have not yet had a similar experience with the four-stringed instrument, which got its name from the Hawaiian for ‘dancing flea,’ will have the chance at the Langley Ukulele Ensemble’s 30th anniversary concert on Saturday, Oct. 15.

Langley Ukulele Ensemble​ alumna Kendra Simonetto will perform at the Bell Centre on Oct. 15 as part of Exit 58

When Leonard Maltin was persuaded by ukulele-playing friends to watch The Mighty Uke, the famous movie critic remarked that the highlight “was learning about the school program in Langley, Vancouver, that introduces kids to strumming and, before long, has them playing Flight of the Bumblebee and the William Tell Overture.”

Maltin called the bonus segments of the documentary, which featured the Langley Ukulele Ensemble, “an absolute delight.”

Langley residents who have not yet had a similar experience with the four-stringed instrument, which got its name from the Hawaiian for ‘dancing flea,’ will have the chance at the Langley Ukulele Ensemble’s 30th anniversary concert on Saturday, Oct. 15.

The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will take place at the Bell Centre, 6250 144 St., in Surrey. For tickets, call 604-507-6355, or buy online at www.bellperformingartscentre.com

The concert will feature not only the current members of the ensemble, but many who belonged to the group over the past three decades.

These include James Hill, and Paul and Mark Luongo, whose father, Peter, is the music director of the LUE.  Other performers include J. Chalmers Doane, whom Peter Luongo describes as “the father of the Canadian ukulele,” and Exit 58, a trio of former ensemble members, Kendra Simonetto (formerly Croft), Chris Parsons and Laura Day.

Simonetto said she is looking forward to seeing the old alumni members, some of whom she hasn’t seen for more than 10 years. “It will also be great fun to be back on stage playing the ukes with the ensemble,” she said.

Clearly, the LUE had a profound influence on her life. “It taught me stage presence, public speaking and how to perform in front of live audiences of any size,” she said.

“It helped me gain confidence with people during my awkward teen years. It allowed me to explore music and fall deeper in love with the art of making music, and perhaps most importantly, it was through the ensemble that I met lifelong friends, many of whom I remain best friends with even today,” she said.

It was also through the LUE that she came to realize a love for teaching and leadership. She is now an elementary school teacher in Langley.

Simonetto, Parsons and Day have all remained Langley residents, and their name, Exit 58, refers to the 200 Street exit from Highway 1.

Performing at the concert will be thrilling. “For us as a group, it really represents coming ‘full circle’ from our time in the ensemble,” she said.

“It is a sort of homecoming, being back on the same stage with our own trio over 10 years later alongside Peter Luongo. So much in our personal lives has changed (getting married, having children) that it will be really neat for our family and friends to see us back with the LUE one more time.”

Exit 58 performs throughout the Lower Mainland, at private functions, weddings, corporate functions (hosted by Rotary, Coast Capital Savings, etc.), charity fundraisers, art shows, community events such as the BC Summer Games torch lighting ceremony, and monthly performances at a restaurant in White Rock.

For the past 17 years, the Langley Ukulele Ensemble has been invited to perform in Hawaii, and so the anniversary concert would not be complete without Polynesian dancers Halau Hula Ka’Uhane O Ka Pakipika, who will give a vibrant and rousing edge to the concert.

Many of the current ensemble’s members played in an invitation-only concert at the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics​.

They have played for Rick Hansen and a host of other celebrities, and thanks to The Mighty Uke, they have followers across the globe.

Last September’s concert at the Cascades Summit Theatre in Langley was filmed, and a DVD of the concert will be on sale, along with CDs of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble, at the Bell Centre.

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