It’s literally a dream job for a man who spent more than 30 years teaching children in Langley how to play and more importantly love the ukulele.
Peter Luongo, better known by many as the Uke Man, is now a 60-year-old, retired school-teacher-turned-administrator.
During his working career, he spent much of his spare time directing the Langley Ukulele Ensemble (LUE) from 1980 to 2013, teaching literally hundreds of local students.
And it appears little has changed. Today, he is travelling the world with his sweetie, still making and teaching music, with – you guessed it – the ukulele.
As he tells it, the stars aligned, and about the same time he started getting a plethora of invitations to perform at dozens of ukulele festivals a year and asked to lead uke workshops around the world.
He jumped at it, and is currently traveling the globe.
“It’s an experience. I’ve got the chance to do something I love, which is to teach and share music, and make and create music, and I’ve got an opportunity to see another part of the world with my best friend [his wife, Sandy]. It’s cool,” Luongo shared with the Langley Advance.
He just returned from an invitation-only tattoo [multi-disciplined entertainment event] in Nova Scotia this week, where he helped emcee part of the show each evening.
He leaves Sunday for Hawaii, where after 25 years of performing there with the LUE kids, he’s bringing his new adult students to perform in the 48th annual Hawaii International Ukulele Festival.
That will be followed by a stint in Langley for a week-long LUE summer camp, before jetting off east again to Ontario at the end August for a summer music festival held in conjunction with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
“Life is good. Actually, life is great… I never would have imagined,” he said. “I’m really enjoying this.”
In between all that, he’ll be leading a few workshops closer to home, and travelling south to Nevada one weekend a month (nine months of the year) to perform or rehearse with his own 25-member adult uke band called the Luongo Ukulele Experience.
This group grew out of a festival in Reno three years ago where he was asked to teach. Today, this group – made up of people ranging in age from their 40s to 80s – performs about 20 times a year at festivals, churches, seniors facilities, and local venues in Nevada and Northern California.
So much for retirement, Luongo laughed. If his summer schedule isn’t hectic enough starting in September, he’s traveling every week for two and a half months.
But asked if he’d give it up, he offered a resounding “no.”
“I spent May in England. We spent part of June in the Maritimes. I’ve been invited to Italy in July, but I can’t make it because I’m in Hawaii… Like I said, life is good.”
And it’s all, he said, attributed to music and specifically the uke – and a worldwide fad.
Many people in Langley, who are very familiar with all that a uke can do and be, are not really aware how popular the instrument has become globally, Luongo said.
“It’s gathered a momentum that I could not have imagined, especially given that when I started teaching it, folks were pooh-poohing the instrument because of Tiny Tim and the impression it was a toy,” he recounted.
“Now, you’ve got adults in every country – it seems – around the world playing it,” Luongo said, noting that the largest single manufacturer of ukes produced a million of the instruments last year, and still couldn’t keep up with the demand.
“It’s just absolutely bursting at the seams,” he said. “So, when you see the growth that this instrument has had, the popularity – folks who are now retired saying ‘I want to take up music’ aren’t taking up the cello or violin, they’re getting a ukulele.”
He said the influx of people interested in the uke is nothing short of a phenomenon, claiming that five out of every eight commercials on TV incorporate uke music, and mainstream bands are adding it to their stage acts.
He chaulks its popularity up to the portability of the instrument, it’s simplicity and ease of learning, it’s happy sounds.
Luongo remember teaching kids who would hide their ukes away at school, and retrieve them in time to go to his rehearsals.
“They were ashamed because they were made fun of. Can you believe that?” he queried, crediting those same kids with helping transform the world’s perceptions of the instrument.
“In my short life time… I’ve seen the instrument go from being a toy mocked – and players who were mocked and made fun of – to now being something that is considered a worldwide phenomenon. One of the popular fads of our day in 2018. It’s great. I love it.”