• The Choro Shop - an Interview with Andrew Lawrence

    The Choro Shop

    The Choro Shop, Tools and Resources for Choro Musicians, is the creation of Andrew Lawrence, founder of Choro Camp New England (in 2019) and Django in June (in 2003). Open less than a month, the new online store is designed to serve the U.S. choro community and those interested in learning this unique style of Brazilian music that heavily favors mandolins and other stringed instruments. The store offers quality, used choro style instruments from respected Brazilian luthiers and includes bandolims, cavaquinhos, pandeiros, 7-string guitars and rabecas (Brazilian violin), along with instructional books and downloads.

    Choro Camp New England and Django in June, Lawrence's signature East Coast camps are both held during the summer at Smith College. a private liberal arts women's college in Northampton, Massachusetts.

    We caught up with Lawrence to learn more about the store, his camps and his new deep dive into all things choro.

    What was the catalyst for the store?

    The camp came first. As someone with a long appreciation of Brazil's choro music, a bit of fluency in Portuguese and a considerable number of visits to the country, I kept asking myself, "Why aren't more musicians in the U.S. playing this music?" It was obvious that barriers existed. I wanted to see what could be done to remove those barriers.

    Step 1 was Choro Camp New England. Musicians needed the opportunity to learn this music from musicians that were native to the style. I never considered the music itself as an obstacle. Choro, of course, can be very complicated, as can most styles of music, but I never saw that as the reason for the music not getting played.

    Having a camp in place was a great start, but it became clear there was a need for the availability of the kind of instruments used in the music. Choro instruments are hard to come by in the U.S. Of course you can play choro on any kind of mandolin, but the Brazilian bandolim is key to the sound of this style of music. This is not unlike a gypsy jazz guitarist picking up a dreadnaught guitar. Sure, you can play Django's music on one, but it doesn't sound the same. Selmer style guitars do not sound anything like American flattop guitars. Brazilian bandolims do not sound like most American style archtop mandolins.

    Back to the camp experience, hearing this music live and played with accomplished players of cavaquinho, pandeiro and a 7-string guitarist is magic that can open doors. I thought the Mandolin Symposium initially opened up a lot of ears and minds to this style of music. We're simply trying to move it forward with with our own approach.

    Where are you sourcing instruments?

    We're small with plans to grow our inventory. We concentrate on quality, used instruments from Brazilian builders. Brazil has online sources not so different from our eBay and Craig's List, so we look there. When we find something we're interested in, we'll purchase it. My business partner in this venture is Adam Bahrami. Adam builds and repairs musical instruments in his shops in São Paulo, Brazil and Boston, specializing in Brazilian stringed instruments. Everything that comes to the store passes through Adam's hands and the luthiers that work with him. Without his expertise we couldn't do this.

    Another interesting difference between the two cultures I should point out is in the U.S., if you want to shop for a mandolin you might be able to travel to a Music Emporium, Elderly Instruments, Carter Vintage as example and try a dozen or more high quality instruments side by side. Those opportunities just don't exist in Brazil. We want to eventually offer something closer to that experience of having many instruments to choose from in one location. Of course to do so in person you'd have to come to Choro Camp New England. Having the opportunity for U.S. based musicians to compare quality Brazilian crafted instruments here is a first to my knowledge.

    L-R: Andrew Lawrence, Adam Bahrami

    Are there U.S. luthiers building Brazilian style bandolims and cavaquinhos?

    It's possible, but if there are they are unknown to me. 7-string Brazilian style guitars, possibly. I should point out we don't sell guitars as part of Django in June. We don't need to. There is a reasonably healthy supply of talented North American luthiers specializing in these types of guitars and online stores such as DjangoBooks.com, DjangoGuitars.com and GypsyGuitars.com have amazing selections of Selmer style guitars available for purchase by builders from North American and Europe.

    Tell us about this year's edition of Choro Camp New England.

    The 2023 edition is our third camp. We missed two years due to the pandemic but met in person in 2022. Our dates are June 26 - July 2 and we'll meet on the beautiful campus of Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

    This year's primary mandolin/bandolim instructor is Almir Côrtez, a native of Bahia, Brazil and currently a professor at the University of Rio de Janeiro's Villa-Lobos Institute. Almir holds a B.A. in classical guitar and Master's and Ph.D. degrees in popular music performance from the University of Campinas-São Paulo. He has served as visiting artist/scholar at Indiana University, San Francisco State University, and at the Latin Music and Culture Celebration organized by Berklee College of Music. He was also on the faculty of the 2012 Mandolin Symposium.

    Our other instructors include:

    • Wind and fretless stringed instruments (Daniela Spielmann)
    • Cavaquinho (Pedro Cantalice)
    • 6 & 7-string guitar (Iuri Bittar)
    • Pandeiro / percussion (Clarice Magalhães)
    • Accordion / keyboards (Vitor Gonçalves)

    Additional Information

    Choro Camp New England
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      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the anniversary of this feature.