View Full Version : Fretworks (mandolin orchestra)

Jonathan Reinhardt
Jul-26-2004, 8:14am
If any of you are here to check in, I want to say congratulations and what a fine performance on "From The Top". A first (mandolin) on that program. Heard it on my public radio station Sun. evening, July 25.
For those not familiar with this orchestra, they are ages 13-18 and most excellent musicians. "From the Top" is a traveling/outreach program of the New England Conservatory, aired on public radio, showcasing musicians in the above mentioned age bracket.


Jim Garber
Jul-26-2004, 9:49am
This was a rebroadcast, according to the #Web site (http://www.fromthetop.org/gr_pages/gr_ym_Fretworks.html), recorded 2/2/03. Doug Back, BTW, is the banjo player of the Big Trio Reprise which includes our own Richard Walz on mandolin.

BTW the performance of this orchestra is worth hearing and available on Real Audio link at the above site. These kids play well.

Name: Fretworks
Ages: 13-18
Instruments: Mandolin, mandola, mandocello, and guitar
Home Town: Montgomery, AL #

#They are seven mandolinists, two mandola players, two mandocellists, eight guitarists and one bass guitarist. Together they make up Fretworks -- one of the most unique student ensembles in the country. "I'd always read about mandolin orchestras -- they were popular around the turn of the century -- and I always thought they sounded interesting," says coach and creator of the group Doug Back. "When I finally got to see one at a classical mandolin society festival, I proposed bringing a mandolin program into the public school." With the help of a grant as well as numerous generous individual donations, Doug began to build a curriculum at Baldwin Junior High, where was already directing the classical guitar program. It wasn't long before Fretworks was born.


Jul-26-2004, 11:40am
I second Jim's recommendation to hear the group. I caught the "From the Top" last night on the way back from a performance and was quite pleased (or was that "shocked" ?) to hear a mando-based group on the show. Let's hope it was just the first time and others will follow.

Bob A
Jul-26-2004, 12:39pm
Some sort of feedback to the radio stations(s) involved might be a good idea. Any links or email addresses?

Jim Garber
Jul-26-2004, 1:03pm
Welllll... tell me, how many kid's mandolin orchestras even exist in this country? I would be curious. You heard the comment that the MC made to Doug, something about the definition of optimistic?

Come to think of it, how many in Europe or Asia por elsewhere? Where is the next generation going to come from?


Jim Garber
Jul-26-2004, 1:20pm
To answer my own question, I did a little googling:

The BMG (http://www.banjomandolinguitar.co.uk/) mentions the EGMYO (European Guitar and Mandolin Youth Orchestra), but gives a dead link. I found that organization here (http://themen.miz.org/laienmusizieren/jugendensembles_print.php?id%5B0%5D=13055&anzahl=50&anfang=1). I imagine that some of the associated youth groups wll play at the Symposium in September.

There is also a youth orchestra in Scotland run by Ian Steel (http://www.scottishmandolins.co.uk/youth.html), who posts here from time to time.


John Goodin
Jul-26-2004, 2:03pm
As composer of the Louisville Suite I just want to say publicly how much I enjoy Fretwork's performance of parts of it on From the Top. Those kids are great and Doug Back is amazing in how he channels their energy into fun music.

The same piece was recorded by the Hessian youth mando orchestra ten years or so ago on a CD titled Back Home under the direction of Keith Harris. It's a really fun recording too. There are quite a few serious youth mando orchestras in Germany although I think "youth" in this case includes some players in their early twenties.

John Goodin

Jim Garber
Jul-26-2004, 2:28pm
Great that you chimed in and that you composed that piece. I see your name on an article about the LMO and that the LMO does have young folks in it, many from the Louisville Youth Orchestra.

I have been wondering how a similar orchestra could be started in my locality. It would be great to get the kids going on the mandolin.


John Goodin
Jul-26-2004, 3:31pm

I think Doug Back would have some real insight in this area. It seems to me you need a huge amount of energy and dedication, plus some signigicant music teaching skills. That's before you even think about funding, etc. Norman Levine and the Plucked String Foundation have been very generous on the funding end with the Fretworks operation but the real cost is in time and energy.

On the other hand it's always seemed to me that the mandolin would be a perfect starter instrument for string players. You could delay the whole bow thing and have kids playing tunes, in tune, pretty quickly. When I've mentioned this to violin teaching friends they aren't convinced but it makes sense to me.


Jul-27-2004, 12:57am

Starting future string players on the mandolin makes a lot of sense. You eliminate so many 'minuses' of the beginning violin player and develope so many 'pluses' that, if I were teaching first level violin some where, I would definitely require at least a year of mandolin prior to picking up a bow and fiddle. Having taught all levels on both instruments (mandolin and violin), there is no doubt in my mind of the value the mandolin has for a potential young violinist. It's not that the violin is so difficult and the mandolin so easy (I would venture that it is more the opposite once you get beyond an intermediate level on either instrument), rather the extension of a logical and progressive approach to building the skills (ear, strength, cooridination, balance and expression) necessary to play either instrument. Doug has done a great job in Montgomery with his school and I would hope that we could see this type of program implemented in other areas of the country.

Jul-31-2004, 6:30am
Thank you, John, for your marvelous efforts on behalf of an underdog in art music. I heard that program when it first aired. I enjoyed it. I have listened to it since via fromthetop.org (http://www.fromthetop.org/); click on "listening library" under the "Radio Show" menu at the left of the page.

John Goodin
Jul-31-2004, 11:55am

Thank you for the kind words. I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by supportive musicians when I first got up the courage to show "Up River Road" to the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra. Jim Bates was especially encouraging and the whole orchestra spent many hours working on everything I would bring in to them. When Keith Harris came for a week-long workshop with the LMO he asked for a copy to take back to Germany and that really inspired me to keep trying.

That said, anyone who's had serious musical training will spot my amateur mistakes right off. I'm always amazed when some orchestra in Europe wants to play one of my pieces. I would have been a lot more careful when I was writing them if I had imagined the wide exposure they would receive.


Jul-31-2004, 1:25pm
Jim Bates is a marvelous guy, eh? He recently finished his doctoral degree in viol, moved to Columbus, and began playing with a local renaissance band. I am lucky to count him amongst my friendly acquaintances. He will be heading the string department at a local college with the start of the new school year. The mandofriendly are moving up 'round these parts.