THE UKULELE KIDS STORY
In the winter of 2009, out of the blue, my wife Julia met up with her Grade 5 teacher from 38 years earlier. Over lunch the next day they reminisced about the ukulele group that Denise had started all of those years ago and how much fun it was. That evening Julia and I wondered if the ukulele still had the same appeal for elementary students that it did then. What we found was amazing.
There were a number of adult groups around the Toronto area that met and sang and strummed together weekly. There were some wonderful performers such as James Hill and Ralph Shaw who were trying to spread the news about this easy to play instrument. But mostly, there were thousands of students just waiting to have a musical experience that would last a lifetime. Ukulele Kids was born!
We started our pilot program at Duke of York and Elkhorn Public Schools for which we scrounged up ukes from a number of retail stores around Toronto. I wrote a curriculum for the program and hired a teacher and Julia set up the business side. The demand grew so quickly that we contacted a major Canadian ukulele distributor and by the end of the first we had over 600 kids enrolled in our new program. In the last four years we have put over 8500 ukuleles into the hands of children and adults in Toronto, Ottawa, Barrie, Niagara, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Nelson BC, Edmonton and we are continuing to expand into other Canadian cities.
So, what has worked to make the Ukulele Kids program so successful? The program is parent paid. The cost includes 8-10 lessons at lunch or after school and includes a ukulele for the child to keep and a 46 page songbook. The ukes come in 8 bright colours for the students to choose from. We integrate our performances into the school music programs at assemblies or concerts. There is no cost to the school to have the students musically educated and the uke is a family friendly sing-along instrument that can be taken anywhere. It is now considered that fastest growing instrument in the world.
Ukulele Kids has become a full-time, all consuming business for Julia and me, but the rewards are significant. As a retired music educator, the ability to continue to expose children to the joys of learning music extends the career choice I made so many years ago into my retirement years. However, there are many interpretations of the word retirement. For me, it simply means, "What new challenge can I meet today?" I am proud that I have put that question in front of 8500 new ukulelists over the last four years and I continue to look forward to the future growth of Ukulele Kids.