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Thread: new mandolin orchestra

  1. #1
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default new mandolin orchestra

    So how hard is it to start a mandolin orchestra?

    I have a lot of music and arrangements, can compose and arrange myself, and have experience conducting and as a music teacher.

    Have any of you started a mandolin ensemble? Any advice?

    Thanks.
    Last edited by DavidKOS; Jan-25-2015 at 3:43pm. Reason: grammar

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Jeff and I answered some of this on his "Confessions" thread. There was some discussion on it some time ago by others. Try a search of the forums.

    In any case, I would highly recommend connecting with CMSA and also canvassing musicians you know in your area and see who is around. I know there are a few active mandolin orchestras in San Francisco and one in Sebastopol (Gravenstein). You can see CMSA's list here.

    The big problem is not the skills which you have but finding members who are good reading players and who are interested in whatever repertoire you are interested in pursuing.
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    I second Jim; the materials are NOT the problem, nor your knowledge. We have TRIED to get something going here in Columbus Ohio on and off for probably 10 years. The Dayton Mandolin Orchestra has been going since 2005 and still struggles to keep membership over 15. Here in Ohio, there are plenty of players, but they only want to do Bluegrass or folk and most do not read music. If you DO start a group, keep TAB players in mind; FINALE will put music into TAB quite easily and sometimes you can gain a member or two that way. It has helped the DMO.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    I think population density is the only answer. I mean, the percentage of those remotely interested is low, so you need a city or metropolitan area to even get critical mass. Then, I would think, the primary skill is the charisma to get folks on board and committed.

    I gather that there are more folks that want to participate in mandolin orchestras than the number who play mandolin. What I mean is that it will be hard to find existing mandolinists who want to play classical, and, like other mandorchestras, you might have to offer or organize some instruction and teaching of mandolin and music reading, and perhaps renting or loaning out instruments, etc.

    Just my perception.


    This is why I long for the day that Justin Beiber takes up the mandolin seriously, and Taylor Swift advocates classical music, because I would like to live in a culture where every medium sized community has a mandolin group or orchestra, in the way so many small and medium sized towns had a town band. I read that
    There is one estimate that there were 10,000 bands in the United States in 1889. Of those, close to 100 are still active.
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by violmando View Post
    .....and most do not read music. If you DO start a group, keep TAB players in mind
    My Sibelius program will do so too, but I really would prefer to use notation....but I understand!

    Thanks for the tip.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    you might have to offer or organize some instruction and teaching of mandolin and music reading
    Don't hold your breath for the Beiber-Swift mandolin ensemble.....

    I had thought of teaching - I already have mandolin students at the school where I teach - and again I appreciate the input.

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Are there classical or folk or community orchestra players you could poach... .sorry i mean 'interest in plucked string ensembles'?
    I think it is important to get away from only thinking mandolin orchestra even though that will be a major component.
    You need to interest a few guitarists, harpists and other string players to engage with the mandolin side too. if you present it as a plucked string orchestra then you will gain the much needed interest from a wider net. Some of our guitarists in our wee community orchestra have moved over to play mandola and mandolin which makes a space to lure another guitarist in.
    Eoin



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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    You need to interest a few guitarists, harpists and other string players to engage with the mandolin side too. if you present it as a plucked string orchestra then you will gain the much needed interest from a wider net. Some of our guitarists in our wee community orchestra have moved over to play mandola and mandolin which makes a space to lure another guitarist in.
    I would second the view that finding sufficient players interested in the same repertoire as you is the problem. We currently have around 10 members. Not all of them can make each weekly get-together (I hesitate to call it "rehearsal", as we're not really rehearsing for public performance but rather playing for our own enjoyment), but even within that group there are distinctly different preferences as to repertoire. We play a mix of old "Golden Era" arrangements inherited from various now-defunct BMG orchestras and new repertoire I collect from online sources and various friends worldwide (more or less the pieces I periodically record at home and upload here on the Cafe). Selecting new pieces is a balancing act between classical pieces, Italian ballo liscio pieces, early music/Playford dances, Carolan/other Irish arrangements and folky waltzes, each of which is more to the liking of some players than others. I'm trying to keep everybody happy while at the same time satisfy my own "kid in a candy shop" inclination of wanting to try out every exciting new arrangement I come across, ending up with 5 or more new pieces every week.

    The biggest problem with new players, at least around here, is classical guitarists who can sight-read and want to play accompaniment in a mandolin group -- lots of folky guitarists improvising over chord progressions, but few who can play a fully-arranged guitar part from notation. We are very fortunate with the guitar player we have, but are seriously handicapped when he can't make it. Those weeks I usually end up strumming a rudimentary accompaniment on tenor guitar, which is not ideal. It would be good to have a regular second guitarist with classical training -- anybody in the Merseyside/NW England area reading this, get in touch!

    Martin

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate the advice.

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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Why don't you start a "Virtual Mandolin Orchestra"? Sort of like the Virtual Choir concept, but with instruments?

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    If anyone does a Virtual Mandolin Orchestra, let me know. I probably can't do it since my pc is ancient, but if I can, I'd love to do mandocello or mandola.
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Jonas View Post
    lots of folky guitarists improvising over chord progressions, but few who can play a fully-arranged guitar part from notation.
    This is a problem I have experienced trying to find a guitar partner to play some duets with. Hard to find someone who wants to play only what is written down.


    I purchased the companion tunebook that goes with Butch Baldassari and John Mock's album Cantabile. The book has written out both the guitar and mandolin parts, together and separately. Some wonderful stuff. I especially like the arrangement of Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1. Not difficult, and very beautiful. But the guitar player has to be a strict reader.
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    This is a problem I have experienced trying to find a guitar partner to play some duets with. Hard to find someone who wants to play only what is written down.
    .... But the guitar player has to be a strict reader.
    And a lot of the good mandolin music has fairly, dare I say, boring guitar parts, even though all written out. So the good readers either get to read a lot of simple music or really tough stuff!

    Quote Originally Posted by bratsche View Post
    Why don't you start a "Virtual Mandolin Orchestra"? Sort of like the Virtual Choir concept, but with instruments?

    bratsche
    Quote Originally Posted by violmando View Post
    If anyone does a Virtual Mandolin Orchestra, let me know. I probably can't do it since my pc is ancient, but if I can, I'd love to do mandocello or mandola.
    Great idea, but I'm certainly not enough of a tech geek to deal with that as far as IT is concerned.

    Plus, I really want to play live.

    I have the opposite of a mandolin orchestra gig tonight - solo mandolin (and some guitar, banjo, etc.) at an Italian restaurant. All acoustic, too, no mikes or amps. I just did a New Orleans/Dixieland show there with a bass player, and had a lot of fun.

    They would love a mandolin group for their Wed. night concert series.

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    And a lot of the good mandolin music has fairly, dare I say, boring guitar parts, even though all written out. So the good readers either get to read a lot of simple music or really tough stuff!.
    Listening to the CD I think its a little of both. But really, its about the music. That Satie is so achingly gorgeous. The spare guitar chords fill in the single note melody of the mandolin, and the result is like a beautiful plucked piano. It really is nice.

    A little boredom in service of great beauty - well that is the preferred mind set anyway.
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    I was referring to a lot of the music for mandolins and guitar, the guitar parts are often on the dull side, compared to what they could be.

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Having begun the Gravenstein Mandolin Ensemble 9 years ago, a mostly amateur group, after a couple of false starts, I have advice based on what worked for us. If you are in an area with few potential members, don't be picky (sorry!) or ambitious. Most importantly, make it free, at least at first, and make it fun!

    Set a recurring meeting time ( we started with once monthly and I was prepared each month to play alone if no one came), spread the word to musician friends, music stores, jams, violinists and the Cafe. And also try to recruit at least 1-2 mandolin and or guitar playing friends who are willing to come and try to read- whether proficient or not. They do not need to be willing to perform. With support members will become better readers over time and the group will get more ambitious. Start with easy arrangements including duets and trios. It has gotten easier to find things on the web, the Classical Mandolin Society of America is a great resource. Be eclectic in the choice of music and open to trying pieces others bring. When getting together, take a break and serve refreshments. Be patient and enjoy the process.

    I hope this helps- and by the way, it sounds from your website like you are somewhere nearby to our Sonoma County group. If you want to come to a practice you would be welcome. By the way, we are always recruiting new members.
    Rhonda Berney

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    I have been avoiding this discussion (and most others on the cafe) but I suppose I will weigh in briefly.

    "This is a problem I have experienced trying to find a guitar partner to play some duets with. Hard to find someone who wants to play only what is written down."

    Throughout the United States there are large numbers of well-trained classical guitarists in every major metropolitan area and many minor ones as well. The Providence Mandolin Orchestra has never had a problem finding classical guitarists who will play what is "exactly" written down. According to your address, you live in upstate NY and also in Washington DC. In neither place should it be a problem to find a competent classical guitarist who reads well, as long as you are looking in the right place (i.e. the local guitar society). What is important is to find repertoire that is musically satisfying for the guitarist. The Baldassari-Mock book that you like (Butch was a fine player and so is Jon) was intended for early-intermediate players and, while one could start with this (it has the merit of being easy to purchase in the US) there is far more out there.


    "And a lot of the good mandolin music has fairly, dare I say, boring guitar parts, even though all written out. So the good readers either get to read a lot of simple music or really tough stuff!"

    I am not sure what you mean by the "good mandolin music" with "boring guitar parts" but if you are referring to early 20th century material by, say, Munier, Calace, and the like, most of the guitar parts for these pieces were prepared by the publishers, fashioned from the piano scores. (It is unclear if Calace wrote his own guitar parts. He certainly was capable of doing so, since he wrote quite a bit of music for solo guitar. Most of the Calace guitar parts for the mandolin-guitar duos are problematic. The guitar parts for the original mandolin orchestra pieces are somewhat better). I would agree that most of these guitar parts are poorly written (very) for the instrument; some of this has to do with the nature of the arrangement and but much of it is inherent in the music itself. The professional mandolin guitar duos that I know (e.g. Trekel-Troester) usually keep a few of these pieces in their repertoires because mandolin audiences, being very conservative, invariably want to hear a Munier piece or similar Italian; however, in professional duos the guitar part is usually newly arranged from the piano original, or modified in some manner. IMHO, only a handful of these pieces are musically worthwhile (the Calace "Rondo", for example).

    On the other hand, there is a very large amount of excellent, original contemporary music for mandolin-guitar duo and mandolin ensemble with guitar (M1, M2, Dola, guitar, bass) with high quality guitar parts. Much of this is from Germany and Australia, but a fair amount is recently composed in the US. I know this repertoire extremely well; there are not many pieces with objectively difficult guitar parts ("really tough stuff", from a professional point of view). Most are readily playable by competent intermediate level classical guitarists (certainly this is true of the mandolin-guitar ensemble music).

    "So how hard is it to start a mandolin orchestra?

    Have any of you started a mandolin ensemble? Any advice?"

    I would say the following:

    --there are several examples of recently founded mandolin orchestras that have been successful. Perhaps the most successful is the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra, founded just a few years ago by Brian Oberlin. It is a excellent, well run group that just hosted the CMSA convention last fall (in Portland), highly successful. Other examples are the San Francisco Mandolin Orchestra and the Austin Mandolin Orchestra (which will host next year's CMSA festival). Chris Acquavella's New Expressions Orchestra was doing extremely well before he moved to Germany for personal reasons. There are also examples of ensembles that have been in the business for a long time -- the Milwaukee group, Providence, Baltimore, Philadelphia, are some obvious examples.

    --if you are serious about staring your own group I suggest you come to the CMSA convention next year in Austin. There will be many people that you could talk with who can give you specific advice.
    Robert A. Margo

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by margora View Post
    I have been avoiding this discussion (and most others on the cafe) but I suppose I will weigh in briefly.

    "This is a problem I have experienced trying to find a guitar partner to play some duets with. Hard to find someone who wants to play only what is written down."

    Throughout the United States there are large numbers of well-trained classical guitarists in every major metropolitan area and many minor ones as well. The Providence Mandolin Orchestra has never had a problem finding classical guitarists who will play what is "exactly" written down. According to your address, you live in upstate NY and also in Washington DC. In neither place should it be a problem to find a competent classical guitarist who reads well, as long as you are looking in the right place (i.e. the local guitar society). .
    I am with you 100% with Washington DC metropolitan area. Like all populous areas it likely has it all.

    Upstate NY, at least where I am, not so much.

    I may have someone from Ithaca, about an hour away, we'll see how it goes.

    The Baldassari-Mock book that you like (Butch was a fine player and so is Jon) was intended for early-intermediate players and, while one could start with this (it has the merit of being easy to purchase in the US) there is far more out there.
    Yea, the mandolin parts are not super challenging. They kind of match my level I guess. I assume the same for the guitar parts. They are very beautiful arrangements for all that. Playing them out (in front of audiences) will be very rewarding.


    If I could spend more time in the DC area I surely would be pursuing the classical side of the mandolin more ardently. The music, alone or ensemble, certainly rewards effort.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Boring.
    I guess I am responding to my experience of guitarists not classically oriented. To them boring means no opportunity to improvise. I can see that among serious classical guitarists, however, boring means something else, it means no real challenge I guess, and/or no interesting participation in the melody of the piece.
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by Gravensteinrhonda View Post
    I hope this helps- and by the way, it sounds from your website like you are somewhere nearby to our Sonoma County group. If you want to come to a practice you would be welcome. By the way, we are always recruiting new members.
    I'd love to visit sometime, but the closeness is deceiving, as I'm in the Mendocino area on the coast, and it's several hours drive over mostly mountain roads to get there.

    Quote Originally Posted by margora View Post
    "This is a problem I have experienced trying to find a guitar partner to play some duets with. Hard to find someone who wants to play only what is written down."

    Throughout the United States there are large numbers of well-trained classical guitarists in every major metropolitan area and many minor ones as well. ........

    "And a lot of the good mandolin music has fairly, dare I say, boring guitar parts, even though all written out. So the good readers either get to read a lot of simple music or really tough stuff!"

    I am not sure what you mean by the "good mandolin music" with "boring guitar parts" but if you are referring to early 20th century material by, say, Munier, Calace, and the like, most of the guitar parts for these pieces were prepared by the publishers,.......

    On the other hand, there is a very large amount of excellent, original contemporary music for mandolin-guitar duo and mandolin ensemble with guitar (M1, M2, Dola, guitar, bass) with high quality guitar parts. Much of this is from Germany and Australia, but a fair amount is recently composed in the US. I know this repertoire extremely well; there are not many pieces with objectively difficult guitar parts ("really tough stuff", from a professional point of view). .....

    --if you are serious about staring your own group I suggest you come to the CMSA convention next year in Austin. There will be many people that you could talk with who can give you specific advice.
    I wish I could attend the convention, not possible due to finances and time.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I guess I am responding to my experience of guitarists not classically oriented. To them boring means no opportunity to improvise. I can see that among serious classical guitarists, however, boring means something else, it means no real challenge I guess, and/or no interesting participation in the melody of the piece.
    The stuff I am referring to with "boring" guitar parts are all the music for 2 mandolins and guitar, not by Calace or Munier, but the mazurkas, waltzes, tarantella, etc. published by Pagani, Cardilli, diBella, etc.

    Those could have much more interesting guitar parts that are more than just boom-chink accompaniments, they could at least have some more melodic bass runs and such.

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by Gravensteinrhonda View Post
    Having begun the Gravenstein Mandolin Ensemble 9 years ago, a mostly amateur group, after a couple of false starts, I have advice based on what worked for us. If you are in an area with few potential members, don't be picky (sorry!) or ambitious. Most importantly, make it free, at least at first, and make it fun!

    Set a recurring meeting time ( we started with once monthly and I was prepared each month to play alone if no one came), spread the word to musician friends, music stores, jams, violinists and the Cafe. And also try to recruit at least 1-2 mandolin and or guitar playing friends who are willing to come and try to read- whether proficient or not. They do not need to be willing to perform. With support members will become better readers over time and the group will get more ambitious. Start with easy arrangements including duets and trios. It has gotten easier to find things on the web, the Classical Mandolin Society of America is a great resource. Be eclectic in the choice of music and open to trying pieces others bring. When getting together, take a break and serve refreshments. Be patient and enjoy the process.

    I hope this helps- and by the way, it sounds from your website like you are somewhere nearby to our Sonoma County group. If you want to come to a practice you would be welcome. By the way, we are always recruiting new members.
    That sounds almost exactly like our setup, except that we aren't a new startup but rather have developed from a casual group of older players who knew each other from various now-defunct mandolin orchestras in the Liverpool/Merseyside area but who continued to play regularly in a smaller and less formal setting. Having the continuity of players and the habit of meeting regularly (weekly in our case) makes it much easier.

    And yes, a tea break is important (especially in England...).

    Martin

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    [The stuff I am referring to with "boring" guitar parts are all the music for 2 mandolins and guitar, not by Calace or Munier, but the mazurkas, waltzes, tarantella, etc. published by Pagani, Cardilli, diBella, etc.

    Those could have much more interesting guitar parts that are more than just boom-chink accompaniments, they could at least have some more melodic bass runs and such.]

    I agree, David. There are hundreds of such popular (not classical) tunes from 100 years ago by Italian and Italian-American composers. It's a shame, because the two mandolin parts can be very pretty and melodic together, while, in most cases, the guitar parts are terrible. Just unimaginative boom-chicks. But there are some nice ones out there too.

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    The stuff I am referring to with "boring" guitar parts are all the music for 2 mandolins and guitar, not by Calace or Munier, but the mazurkas, waltzes, tarantella, etc. published by Pagani, Cardilli, diBella, etc.

    Those could have much more interesting guitar parts that are more than just boom-chink accompaniments, they could at least have some more melodic bass runs and such.
    Indeed so, and those particular tunes form a fair chunk of our repertoire. In a way the primitive guitar parts make life easier for me personally when recording these tunes at home -- I'm not a guitar player, but I can always churn out a boom-chick rhythm on tenor guitar and a walking bass line on mandocello -- but less interesting for our guitar player when we play them with the group.

    I agree with Robert that there are many old and modern arrangements with more interesting guitar parts, either in the Nakano archive or available from Trekel. "Interesting" usually also means "challenging", though, and much of this material is not really suitable for an informal practice group such as ours (not least because I may not be able to play the mandolin parts...).

    Which brings me to another decision that any fledgling group needs to address: do you have a "proper" musical director and conductor, or do you want a more informal practice group (more or less a "sight-reading jam")? Having a conductor allows for much more sophisticated arrangements to be played, but is a completely different social dynamic from playing with a few friends in the round. Plus, of course, you need to find a musical director with the necessary musical and social skills to hold it together.

    Martin

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by jblanchard View Post

    I agree, David. There are hundreds of such popular (not classical) tunes from 100 years ago by Italian and Italian-American composers. It's a shame, because the two mandolin parts can be very pretty and melodic together, while, in most cases, the guitar parts are terrible. Just unimaginative boom-chicks. But there are some nice ones out there too.
    The guitar parts just could have had some melodic interest.

    I am thinking of combining the 2nd mandolin and the chords into a single guitar part as an experiment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Jonas View Post
    Indeed so, and those particular tunes form a fair chunk of our repertoire. In a way the primitive guitar parts make life easier for me personally when recording these tunes at home -- ....

    ..... either in the Nakano archive .....

    Which brings me to another decision that any fledgling group needs to address: do you have a "proper" musical director and conductor, or do you want a more informal practice group (more or less a "sight-reading jam")? Having a conductor allows for much more sophisticated arrangements to be played, but is a completely different social dynamic from playing with a few friends in the round. Plus, of course, you need to find a musical director with the necessary musical and social skills to hold it together.

    Martin
    Well, I'm not so sure how "proper" I'd be, but I was planning on being the musical director and conductor; I have led ensembles for decades, and have a Masters in Music, and am a school band director, so I think I'm qualified enough. That is if I can get enough players for that size group! But I'm happy playing in a chamber group too.

    Isn't the Nakano archive closed? or at least no more downloads?

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Isn't the Nakano archive closed? or at least no more downloads?
    Rumour has it that various local backup copies may have been made by interested parties after the archive owners gave notice of the forthcoming closure...

    Martin

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    Default Re: new mandolin orchestra

    "The stuff I am referring to with "boring" guitar parts are all the music for 2 mandolins and guitar, not by Calace or Munier, but the mazurkas, waltzes, tarantella, etc. published by Pagani, Cardilli, diBella, etc.

    Those could have much more interesting guitar parts that are more than just boom-chink accompaniments, they could at least have some more melodic bass runs and such."

    My comments here apply even more strongly. There is a virtually limitless quantity of music of this type; for a me a little (very) goes a long way. You can certainly make the guitar parts more interesting but you can only do so much, given the underlying musical material.

    "Isn't the Nakano archive closed?"

    The CMSA is in the process of reconstructing it (paying attention to copyright issues). If you join the CMSA you can gain access, bearing in mind that it is a work in progress.

    "I agree, David. There are hundreds of such popular (not classical) tunes from 100 years ago by Italian and Italian-American composers. It's a shame, because the two mandolin parts can be very pretty and melodic together, while, in most cases, the guitar parts are terrible. Just unimaginative boom-chicks."

    Some 20 years ago in an interview in the now defunct Mandolin Quarterly Jim Bates argued that it was extremely important for classical mandolinists in the US to recognize the central role of the classical guitar in contemporary mandolin ensemble music, if for no other reason to take advantage of the fact that classical guitar was being integrated into music schools nationwide, that the population of classical guitarists was expanding rapidly, and that the then new generation of classical guitarists was more involved with and interested in ensemble music. For this to happen ultimately (and, unfortunately, not a lot of progress has been made), however, it is crucial to play music that appeals to the guitar. Bottom line: no boom-chick.
    Robert A. Margo

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