It looks like the uke already has roots in California's school system:
Fountain of ukes
La Habra High music teacher introduces the ukulele to his students, who are entertaining others with the versatile instrument.
By LOU PONSI
The Orange County Register
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LA HABRA Longtime musician and singer David Montoya says any ukulele is a fun ukulele.
"There is a whimsical nature to (ukuleles), and they are easy to play," said the La Habra High choir director, who purchased his first ukulele eight years ago while in Hawaii on his honeymoon.
Montoya's passion for the instrument deepened after attending a performance by a ukulele legend, Bill Tapia. Montoya took lessons from Tapia, and soon the teacher's passion grew on his students.
Montoya and about 45 students formed a ukulele club at La Habra in the fall of 2007.
About eight of the more dedicated students formed a ukulele ensemble, which has performed a series of concerts.
While Montoya acknowledges being surprised that so many students were drawn to the ukulele, the musicians said many factors make the "uke" a desirable instrument.
"I liked it because it was small and portable," said Jesus Gaeta, 16, an ensemble member.
Since it has just four strings – two fewer than a guitar – Montoya said the ukulele is easy to learn, and you don't need to read music to play.
"I think beginners want to make music quickly, and the uke is an efficient way of getting into some music making," he said.
Said 15-year-old ukulele player Rachel Babashoff: "You can make different sounds and mix it with so many different things."
The price is right as well: Ukuleles start at about $20.
The instrument is also adaptable to several musical genres.
"We do Hawaiian, we do Beach Boys, we do Beatles," Montoya said.
In June, the ensemble was invited to perform at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, where the group instantly endeared itself to the audience.
"We probably had the greatest response of any group that we've had," said Michael Miller, host of the Muckenthaler's Second Thoughts series, which matches musical groups with performance poets.
"They just brought down the house. I think there were a lot of people that didn't want them to stop."
Miller was so impressed that he invited the ensemble back to headline with noted poets.
The ensemble's versatile repertoire includes tunes such as "Yellow Submarine," "Hawaiian War Chant," "Blue Hawaii," "Somewhere over the Rainbow," "Surfer Girl" and "Mack the Knife."
Montoya expects his ensemble to once again enthrall the audience.
"They say you can't have a ukulele in your hand and not smile," he said. "The audience responds to that."
Know your "uke"
Ukulele basics: A subset of the guitar family, a ukulele has four strings (a guitar has six). The four strings are the same four highest pitch guitar strings. There are four sizes of ukuleles: Soprano (21 inches), Concert (23 inches), Tenor (26 inches) and Baritone (30 inches).
History: The ukulele is mostly associated with Hawaii, but its roots are believed to go back to Portugal. The Portuguese brought the instrument to Hawaii in the late 1800s
Did you know? Yes, there is a Ukulele Hall of Fame; its oldest member is 100-year-old Bill Tapia, who lives in Westminster. Tapia still performs and teaches, has played with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Fats Waller and given lessons to Betty Grable, Jimmy Durante and Buster Crabbe.
Source: ukeschool.com, ukulele.org, billtapia.com