Langley ukulele players share musical passion with Waikiki

A troupe of Langley teens touched down in Waikiki late last night, and were expected to be rested, refreshed, and set to perform the first of 10 shows on the tropical island this morning.

At least, that was the itinerary for 23 members of the Langley Ukulele’s senior ensemble, who – as a group – were in Hawaii for the 19th time representing their hometown, B.C., and Canada on an international stage.

“We’re Hawaii bound. Everyone here is just so excited,” ensemble director Paul Luongo said the night before departing Vancouver’s YVR.

“And while everyone here is energized, everyone in Hawaii is so excited to have us, too,” he added, noting they’ll be there for 12 days and 11 nights.

This is 25-year-old Luongo’s 15th trip to Hawaii with the ensemble, but this is his first time as their leader rather than a participating student.

In addition to the nine chaperones – primarily parents – joining him and the kids on this trip, Luongo said he’s feeling more confident and comfortable about this enormous undertaking knowing his father Peter – who started the ensemble trips to Hawaii more than two decades ago – is also making the excursion.

“He’s graciously agreed to take two of his five weeks of annual vacation time to accompany us to Waikiki,” Paul said, still unsure however if he’ll have any luck coaxing his dad to perform.

“Oh, who am I kidding,” the young Luongo injected. “I’m sure we’ll work something out. We’ll get him up on stage there with us, and I’m sure he’ll get the kids enthused as he has done so incredibly well for all those years.”

Peter Luongo was ensemble director for 32 years and retired from the post last summer, handing over the reins to his son Paul. The senior member of the family is, however, still president of the uke society.

In preparation for this trip, the students have been rehearsing since May 1, once a week as a full ensemble and at least one other time a week in smaller groups.

“We’re finally venturing into the 1980s,” the young director said, explaining that the ensemble has been preparing a series of popular numbers from that era including the works of Guns & Roses, Michael Jackson, Journey, Bon Jovi, and Survivor.

“I’ll even be wearing tight pants and I’ve been growing out my hair, just for this occasion,” joked Paul.

As has become tradition on this Hawaii trip, the ensemble will be staying at and performing at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. They have eight shows at their hotel, two other shows at the Moana Surfrider Resort, a performance for each of the three local Rotary clubs, one show at the Bank of Hawaii in the heart of the city, a live appearance on the Fox News network, and a day set aside to explore the west side of the island and swim with the dolphins and other tropical fish.

They’ll be doing a little sightseeing and relaxing on the trip, Luongo said, but ultimately he said “the purpose of this trip is to perform music, to share our love and passion for the music.”

While the local ensemble has raised about $35,000 towards the cost of this trip through concerts and shows over the past year plus, Luongo said about half of the expedition is subsidized – and ultimately made possible – through sponsorship from the Sheraton.

When the teens return home near the end of the month, Luongo said, they’ll have a few weeks off to enjoy what’s left of summer before performing on the PNE main stage on Aug. 28.

• Stay tuned to the Langley Advance print and online editions for updates and photos from the ensemble’s trip

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