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The ukulele is a 4-stringed instrument, adapted from 5-stringed instruments brought to Hawaii by Portuguese sailors in the 19th century. 

While we often hear it called “yoo-ka-lay-lee,” the Hawaiian pronunciation is “oo-koo-le-le.”  The word ukulele has two possible translations: “jumping flea” or, according to Queen Lili’uokalani, “the gift that came here.”

There are four increasing sizes of ukulele: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.  The soprano is the original and smallest ukulele.  The larger the ukulele is, the louder and deeper the tone it can produce.

Robert Matsunaga is the instructor of the Ukulele Class which meets every Thursday at 12:45 pm.  After retiring, he joined the class in 2002 to brush up on his self-taught skills.  Two years later, Robert was teaching a beginners’ class, plus arranging the music that the class performed at various events, including the VJCC Shinnen Enkai and Summer Festival.  Most of the music that the 35 Ukulele Class members play and sing are English, Hawaiian and Japanese, but they do have a few Chinese, Okinawan, and Pilipino selections in their repertoire.

Whether pronounced oo-koo-le-le or yoo-ka-lay-lee, the performance segment of the demonstration with Robert serenading us and playing his tenor ukulele was truly, as Queen Lili’uokalani defined it, “the gift that came here.”


For class information, please call 310-822-8885 or email the office at

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