This week, I am highlighting a wonderful community organization called 'Ukulele Project Hawai'i. The project offers free music programming that allows nā keiki (children) to learn 'ukulele and gives them access to an instrument if they do not have one. 'Ukulele Project Hawai'i or also known as UPHI or UP Hawaii stems from the dream of providing every keiki in Hawai'i a gateway to music while helping them learn essential life skills and lessons. The not-so-behind-the-scenes organizer and instructor of UPHI is Larry Santos. I had the pleasure of meeting Larry while visiting Oahu and took my first uke lesson with one of his instructors. Let me tell you, it was an amazing experience to see the all-aged community of players gather, to learn and play.
How did 'Ukulele Project Hawai'i start?
In 2016, a cousin had aspired to learn and play the 'ukulele. Larry gifted him his first instrument and witnessed the joy the 'ukulele had brought him. Wanting to continue that experience, he developed the concept of 'Ukulele Project Hawai'i. Larry decided the project would focus on giving 'ukuleles to children who did not have the means and could benefit from learning how to play. In 2017, Larry officially started UPHI and began looking for secondhand 'ukuleles to offer his students. A year later, he was teaching at a local children's shelter, and by early 2020, was leading a 16-week 'ukulele course until the pandemic prohibited in-person gatherings.
How many 'ukuleles have you given away, and how many people do you think your project has impacted?
Larry looks for kids whose families may be economically challenged or homeless due to circumstance. Thanks to generous donors, UPHI has gifted around 75 'ukuleles to different shelters and non-profit organizations. Before Covid, the project had over 100 students and players between the ages of 6 to 60 attending his lessons and meetups.
What is next for 'Ukulele Project Hawai'i?
The long-term goal is to create studios throughout the state of Hawai'i and perhaps nationwide. Larry would like to buildup instructors who could teach in their communities and provide instruments to their students. Short-term, Larry is looking forward to teaching in-person again (when it is safe) and picking up projects he had in the works (such as working with local veterans) before the pandemic hit.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Family comes first. Larry can be found spending time with his wife, Kyra, and their sons in his spare time. He also enjoys fishing, cooking, and flying his drone over different parts of the island. Check out his YouTube channel and Instagram page for some breathtaking views of Oahu.
What would you tell someone who is shopping for their first 'ukulele and wanted to know what size to start with?
A beginner's size depends on the age or size of the person. The instrument should feel comfortable and be easy to hold, but it should also fit your playing style. If someone wanted a recommendation of what size to start with, a soprano/concert is a good size for youth and a concert/tenor for adults.