The Langley Ukulele Ensemble is a Canadian group that travels the world performing on the most Hawaiian of all instruments. The groups origins are rooted in education, which suits them well, as many of their concerts serve to bring this instrument to a wider audience. The ensemble is very well-respected, performing yearly in Hawaii, a state where you’ll find most of the best ukulele players in the world. They’ve also played in Japan, extensively throughout the US and are planning on visiting Europe. Their origins, however, are not glamorous, but are very admirable.
While the ukulele is a serious instrument, it’s also a relatively inexpensive instrument at the beginner levels. This led Rae Fetherstonhaugh, a Canadian school teacher in the Langley District, to add them to the curriculum as a way to teach students about music. Starting in the 1970s, this program was destined to become something much more than a music class diversion. Rae Fetherstonhaugh eventually formed an honor group to showcase his most accomplished students. The students proved to be very interested in being a part of it, and the program grew very quickly in popularity. Performances to senior groups and other schools made the group popular with the community at large.
The ensemble grew out of these honor groups. During the 1990s, the group began allowing members into their 20s to join up. This increased the ensemble’s popularity and garnered Langley the title of the “Ukulele Capital of Canada”. As the group began to perform more and more, their popularity began to expand to beyond Canada. In 1994, the group made its first trip to Hawaii. Impressing a Hawaiian audience with ukulele skills is a tough job, given the importance of the instrument to the island’s culture and the huge number of very accomplished players to be found on the islands. Every year since their Hawaiian debut, however, the Langley Ukulele Ensemble has held concerts in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Waikiki to great acclaim.
Today, the ensemble continues to become more ambitious in its travel plans. The fact that the ukulele has been consistently growing in popularity as a serous instrument over the years has helped this. The ensemble performs ukulele and vocal pieces, harkening back to the first days of mainland popularity for this instrument, when vaudeville performers became enamored of its flexibility and relatively low cost.
The Langley Ukulele Ensemble, like all accomplished ensembles, now limits its membership. It’s a large ensemble, with 20 to 25 members at any given time. Many of them are very accomplished singers in addition to their ukulele skills, offering the ensemble a broad palate with which to work. While the school program eventually dwindled due to budget cuts, the Langley Ukulele Ensemble continues to this day. It has allowed Canada—not known for being particularly tropical island-like—to become part of the ukulele’s history and, with ever expanding travel plans and popularity, part of its future, as well.Return to Home Page