The Ukulele Institute, operated by 38-year-old Nick Roberti of Jim Thorpe, a professional musician for nearly 20 years, opened in East Jim Thorpe on Monday.

Roberti regularly entertains in Carbon County with his girlfriend, Alicia Burke, in the folk rock duo, Analog Velvet. She sings and plays bass and percussion. He sings, plays bass, guitar and most recently, ukulele.

"I like the sound of the ukulele," Roberti said. "It's similar to a classical guitar but with a faster decay, and a perkier higher-pitched sound."

"It makes people smile," he continued. "It's hard to be depressed when you hear the ukulele. When I'm feeling down and I play my ukulele, it cheers me up."

Last year at a rock concert, Roberti heard the Irish group Guggenheim Grotto perform two songs where the guitarist played ukulele.

"That was the first time I heard anyone play a ukulele live," Roberti said. "It seemed to capture the audience's attention. There was cheering. I fell in love with the sound just from those two songs."

"I became obsessed with the ukulele and decided to get one and to open a lesson center where I would make the ukulele the focus."

Arthur Godfrey popularized the ukulele in the 1950s. Elvis Presley reintroduced it to the 1960s in Blue Hawaii as did Marylyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. It had been seen it in movies played by Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, George Harrison, Jason Robards, and Mia Farrow.

The Hawaiian instrument came to the mainland U.S. at the Hawaiian Pavilion of the San Francisco Panama Pacific International Exposition. Its easy to play, easy to carry quality made it an icon of the jazz age college set.

Its high point may have been with Herbert Khaury a.k.a. Tiny Tim's rendition of Tiptoe Through the Tulips then again maybe that was its low point.

With the release of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's 1993 ukulele medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World," the instrument became endeared to a new generation. The big fellow, who once topped out at 770 pounds, with a sweet voice and a mastery of the instrument, became symbolic of Hawaiian culture.

The ukulele is a small four-stringed instrument that is the perfect accompaniment to the hula dance. It uses nylon strings that are tuned similarly to the top for strings of the guitar but a perfect fourth higher. It is typically played with a fast strum.

"The ukulele is a perfect instrument to get started on if you are new to music because it's relatively cheep," Roberti said. "It's also small, easy to carry, and easy to start playing chords. You can learn a chord or two in one lesson and leave playing several simple songs."

Roberti teaches bass, guitar and ukulele. You'll probably have to bring your own instrument because left-handed Roberti has restrung his instruments for a left handed player. Then again, Roberti noted, "A student needs their own instrument to practice on."

The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian interpretation of a small guitar-like instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. The tone and volume of the instrument varies with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.

Roberti went to Jim Thorpe High School and graduated from Moravian College with a BA in Music Performance specializing in the upright string bass. The awkwardness of the upright bass caused him to shift to the electric bass, and then to guitar, before developing his fascination with the ukulele.

For information about the Ukulele Institute, call 610-597-7159 or email: nickroberti@yahoo.com.