CLINTON, P.E.I. - Heidi Litke’s world is in tune with the ukulele.
She plays it.
She has recorded a CD of her favourite folk tunes.
She even crafts her own four-stringed instruments that Canadian musicians like James Hill, Chalmers Doane and David Myles are raising to new heights across the country.
When Litke rolls up the garage door of her workshop in Clinton, it’s easy to see that this is no ordinary hobby.
Ukuleles, in various stages of construction, are spread out on work tables all across the room. Finished instruments, waiting to be played, hang on the wall inside a humidor, a small room which regulates temperature and humidity.
“I build different sizes,” says the luthier as she moves about her tidy, bright workroom, stopping occasionally to pick up and display an instrument that she is making. “There’s a soprano or standard, a concert, tenor and a baritone.”
There’s also a bass ukulele. It’s the same size as the baritone, but it’s built differently with “fat strings and low tones.”
Creating these intricate sculptures of sound is a pastime she enjoys.
“It’s quiet, restful and peaceful. It’s why I enjoy this hobby so much. It’s so satisfying,” says Litke, who was born in Ontario, lived in the United States and moved to P.E.I. five years ago with her husband after he retired from the lumber industry there.
Litke simply wanted to “come home” to Canada.
Ukulele on P.E.I.
- Saturday Morning Ukulele Group (S.M.U.G) meets Saturdays, 9:30 a.m., at Hillsboro Funeral Home. For more information, go to http://smugpei.blogspot.ca.
- Adult ukulele classes are Wednesdays at Stratford Public Library at 1 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
- The Baptist Ukulele Singers (B.U.G.S.) meet Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m., at Joan Jones’ house on 55 Jones Rd., Hazelbrook.
- This past winter, ukulele was taught at Community School classes in Stratford, Charlottetown Rural High School, Vernon River Consolidated and Bluefield High School as well as locations in Montague and Vernon River.
- For more information on Heidi Litke, go to http://www.redsandsukuleles.com.
After summering on P.E.I. since 1997, this country’s smallest province was a natural choice for the couple.
And the rolling country hills of Clinton were a natural fit.
Surprisingly, what wasn’t natural was Litke’s connection to music.
“I studied music in school, but it never caught on. But, when I discovered the ukulele, things started to click. Now it’s my passion.”
Litke’s love affair with ukuleles began in 2005 when she picked one up during a vacation in Hawaii.
“Some people go to Germany and buy a cuckoo clock, I bought a ukulele (in Hawaii).”
When she returned to her home in Colorado, at the time, she found some instructional videos online and started strumming.
“I discovered that I loved it. In fact, I loved playing the uke so much I would play it for hours and hours every day; playing every piece over and over and over again until I learned it by heart.”
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Her enjoyment with the ukulele led her to share it with others by starting the Denver Ukulele Orchestra. She met with members to learn new songs and strum along together at a local folk venue.
But that wasn’t enough to satisfy her musical appetite.
A desire to learn more propelled her to switch from simply strumming to more intricate plucking.
“I’ve also developed a passion for classical music,” says Litke, who also plays the ukulele classically and has just recorded a CD, “Heidi Litke: Simple Gifts”.
Litke, who learned how to build musical instruments at a community college when she still lived in Denver, has also teamed up with her teacher/mentor Robbie O’Brien to give a ukulele building course online.
When asked to speculate on her next ukulele challenge, she doesn’t have to look very far.
“My next project is a parlour-sized ukulele. My husband, Rob, built a jig for it. He’s my shop manager, always by my side.”
As for the musical future of those instruments in her workshop, some will be sold, some will be donated as fundraiser and some will be given away.
Litke says she always wanted to something “productive” in her retirement.
“Instead of working for others, I’m playing for me,” she say with her ever-present warm smile.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to make money doing these things. I can just enjoy what I love to do.”