HonketyHank takes a sharp left turn ...

  1. HonketyHank
    I have been known to make sudden turns without using my turn signal, so here goes...

    Last week I bought a mandola. You could almost accuse me of stealing it, but such are the vagaries of eBay auctions. Anyway, I bragged about it in the main forum a few days ago. Almost immediately, I got a response from MC member "Doc James" inviting me to check out the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra. I went to a rehearsal last night.

    Oh man. I am nowhere up to speed for orchestra music. Especially not on mandola. But they NEED mandolas. They must be desperate because after I went through all the good reasons I was not suitable, they still want me. I think I am going to do it. At least I am going to give it a tryout.

    At least I can read music. Sight reading is terrible, but I can get it if it is in the treble clef. It turns out that a lot of mandola orchestral music is written in the alto clef. Shoot, I didn't even know "alto clef" was a real thing.

    I've got a lot to learn. Not just the orchestra's repertoire, but I really have to bear down on my reading skills (in the alto clef, even). Right now I have trouble remembering the difference between adagio, allegro, and arriba, I need to brush up on vocabulary. And I will have to get that long scale stretch going with the left hand if I want to get up to the required tempos.

    But, wow, what an adventure. This is either going to be a lot of fun or a lot of grunt work. Or both.
  2. Guitfiddle Mike
    Guitfiddle Mike
    Sounds like fun Hank! All I can help you with is that aribba means to GITIT!!!!
  3. MikeZito
    Obviously you have more skill and talent than you think . . . go get 'em!
  4. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    As we violists like to say, "Welcome to the dark side!"

    Alto clef is the finest clef of all: middle C is right there on the middle line, where God and nature intended. Its symbol is also the most elegant, sitting pretty at the beginning of each staff. You'll come to love it. In the meantime, Harvey Whistler's book From Violin to Viola might be a good resource for you. It presupposes reasonable technical skill and reading ability on the treble clef instrument, which you have, and helps you transfer it to alto clef. Another thing I found helpful was to play scales, looking at music, and saying the note names as I played each note. It sounds dumb, maybe, but it does help drill it in.

    Last month I had a chance to sit in with the Albuquerque Mandolin Orchestra, and it was a whole heck of a lot of fun. Wish I lived close enough to go play with them regularly.
  5. HonketyHank
    Thanks for the book rec, Louise. Ordered it from Amazon a few minutes ago. Already started my alto clef training just looking at a big blowup of a staff and the notes for two octaves of the C scale, playing and saying. Pretty much like you mention. Great minds swim in the same channels, or whatever. Got pdf's of the repertoire. Only one is written in alto clef, which surprised me. I suspect that some have been transposed from alto to treble clef.

    Learned all about the tenor clef today too. Ain't it grand to be learning stuff?
  6. Ellsdemon
    Congrats Hank for taking a brave step. You can only go up from here right? Enjoy every minute of it when you can.
  7. bbcee
    @Henry, I remember Doc James posting that and thinking, "HH could possibly be in for a new adventure". I'm really pleased to hear you're going for it! The idea of playing in a mandolin family ensemble is just so cool, and such a great connection to the past. And, you're playing the coolest instrument of them all.

    What luck to be setting out in a new direction, eh?
  8. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Wow, what exciting news, Henry! I'm sure you'll have a blast. Ain't life grand?
  9. maudlin mandolin
    maudlin mandolin
    Congratulations on your purchase and I am glad to hear you are not neglecting your new instrument as I did mine for years.
    While you have embraced the dark side with alto clef I am trying to learn to play from treble clef as I have a ton of sheet music and books in treble clef and this is what the group I play in uses.
    I played with a Mandolin Orchestra some time ago and found a lot of hard work and commitment were required; but if you get to play a concert with a full size Orchestra it is a great experience. So I encourage you to stick with it and you will probably learn a lot from your fellow musicians and from playing with them.
  10. Sleet
    Henry, watching how you've dedicated yourself and seeing how much ground you've gained in your musical journey, I'm not surprised that they wanted you. I hope you enjoy your new adventure.
  11. HonketyHank
    Thanks for the encouragement, folks. I need it. As reality sinks in I am more and more cognizant of the actual mountain as opposed to the alleged rewarding view from the summit. Pretty daunting. Scary even.

    Next week will be my first rehearsal where I bring my mandola. I may just sit there and not play a note, but I am working on one of the pieces so it is possible that I might play a few phrases.

    I am trying to convince myself that the alto clef is just a different window onto the range of audible western classical tones. Slide the window up a bit and it is called a treble clef. Slide it down a bit and it is called a bass clef. The notes are the same. You just are looking at them from a different viewpoint.

    But, it turns out that the orchestra has a set of sheet music for mandola (alto clef) AND a set for mandola (transposed treble clef). With the latter, the music notes are actually shifted so that I (or any mandola player that needs such a crutch) can pretend I am playing the mandolin and use the fingering I would used on a mandolin and the notes actually being played are a perfect fifth lower than the written note -- ie, at the correct pitch to go with all the other instruments. So, if the key signature for the piece is G, the key signature on the transposed mandola music would be D. Got it? Clear as mud, right?

    It's confusing and basically beyond the scope of anybody playing fiddle tunes and bluegrass and celtic. But it is a down and dirty way to play a mandola if you play a mandolin and can read music for the mandolin. I know that at least one of the mandola players in the orchestra is using that crutch, so I am sorely tempted to use it too. At least temporarily.

    But the larger problem, I think, is getting accustomed to the longer scale on the fretboard. I am hitting a lot of buzzy, chunky-thunky, notes and I am finding the left hand stretches to be very much at the limit of my flexibility. So I am spending more time on scales and finger exercises than on the actual pieces that I need to learn.
  12. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Henry, I'm soooo envious! I suspect the improvement in your playing will be amazing.
  13. Kay Kirkpatrick
    Kay Kirkpatrick
    Congrats for being 'selected!' That shifted crutch music sounds great. I bet you get used to the 'dola pretty easily. Good luck!
  14. Swimbob
    Wow Hank, I'm envious. That is a wonderful adventure you're setting out on. I'm with Sherry, you're gonna improve by leaps and bounds. I can't wait for you to share some of the performances once you get the hang of it.
  15. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Please keep us posted as to your experience with the orchestra, Henry.
  16. HonketyHank
    Will do.
  17. HonketyHank
    An update after my second rehearsal of my illustrious orchestral career:

    1. I played more notes while tuning up than during the following 2 hours of actual rehearsal.
    2. But I did play all the rests.

    3. I really feel out of place. My music reading skills are not up to required levels, my playing skills are not up to required levels, and the pieces in our repertoire are way out of the universe of Celtic / folk / bluegrass / old-time. Well, I take that back. There is an arrangement of Cooley's Reel in which the mandola is but one little piece in the backup to the mandolins' melodic line. I have been working on this one and can almost play some of it. So heck, I am making progress.

    4. When you are playing from sheet music, you absolutely cannot be looking at your hands to make sure your fingers are going where they need to be going. You have two things for your eyes to do. One is reading the music of course. The other is watching the conductor. Both are critically important. Focus on your hands, even for an instant, and you are dead. This is a real problem when a person (like me) is trying to make the move from a 14" scale mandolin to a 16.75" scale mandola (and trying not to lose any acquired skills on the mandolin). That extra 2.75" of fretboard is huge.

    5. Point #4 reinforces my resolve that I need to focus on technical exercises to develop awareness of "where the frets are" as a first priority. Scales, fingerbusters, arpeggios, etc. It does little good to learn to play a piece if half the notes are buzzy or chunky.

    So, there I am. I haven't quit, but I do admit to "what am I doing here?" moments.
  18. FredK
    Henry, I admire your gumption in taking on this role in the orchestra. It can only make you stronger and better. As the saying goes: what doesn't kill you will make you stronger - or something to that effect.
  19. Kevin Stueve
    Kevin Stueve
    Stick with it hank, much of what your are feeling I felt last year with the KC mandolin orchestra. I wish I had time to play with them this year.
  20. HonketyHank
    Course correction! Starboard Full Rudder!

    Early this week I took a cold hard look at where I am and the level at which the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra plays. My assessment is that I need to develop several skills to a higher level than I have attained so far before I can participate in a meaningful way. It would be easy for me to say that the transition to mandola is difficult and is holding me back. And in some ways that is true, but it is not the whole truth. I think can attain an entry-level skill set with practice, but time (and reps) are definitely required.

    My plan is to continue working on playing the mandola from sheet music and by ear and memory. And I hope I can do that while not neglecting the mandolin like have the past few weeks. The mandola right now is in the shop for some new frets, an actual mandola bridge, and a new nut, so I have had some time to work a bit on the TOM which I hope to submit tomorrow. I have also done some exercises on Big Waldo (the waldzither) which I have tuned like a mandola and has an even longer scale (18.5" - that sure is stretching out my fretting fingers).

    I have notified the Orchestra that I will not be participating in the season ending concert (April 13) but that I will stay in contact and hope to be ready to rejoin in late summer when the new season rehearsals begin.

    So, it has been interesting to see a new and different mandolin world. Maybe a bit disappointing that I didn't fit right in immediately, but not really. I knew I wasn't all THAT good. With practice though, I probably can at least fake it.

    I took a peek at next month's TOM and see a tune that should work nicely on the mandola, so that's what I plan to do.
  21. bbcee
    Fair enough, Henry, sounds like you're taking the right approach - I must have missed the part that the concert's April 13!! No need to stress at this point in life.

    That 'dola is going to come back as a wonderfully playable instrument. Look forward to your Roanoke.
  22. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Sounds like a good call.

    If you know people in the orchestra, maybe there are a few who would be happy to get together and play over the summer.
  23. bbcee
    What Louise said - great idea.
  24. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I read your blog post about that last night, Henry. Also watched the string testing video again, man, what a cool sounding instrument!
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