Classical 91.5

Mandolin orchestra tradition returning to Rochester

Feb 21, 2019

Rochester Mandolin Orchestra (c.1920) - image courtesy of John Bernunzio

I grew up in the NYC area surrounded by a large extended family of first- and second-generation Italian immigrants, most hailing from Sicily. I enjoyed the musical aftermath of our extended family visits where uncles and cousins would play their mandolins and guitars after sharing a traditional meal and lively conversation! 

Tom Napoli's 1956 Gibson Mandolin

I recently received one of my uncle’s Gibson mandolins from my cousin that was hanging on his wall and during a recent visit, it was offered and became my current musical obsession.

I searched and found some Italian mazurka songs, similar to those my family played, and enlisted Ken Luk and John Williamson, friends from the Rochester Guitar Club, to join me in playing several arrangements written for two mandolins and a guitar.  That experience led to discussions of forming a mandolin ensemble or orchestra here in Rochester.

Mandolin orchestras were once very common, including here in Rochester back circa 1920, and dozens still thrive today in cities across the USA.  The Classical Mandolin Society of America lists nearly 50-member orchestras and ensembles, so why not one in Rochester?

Rochester has a rich musical heritage and continues to boast a lively musical entertainment scene.  That, along with several renowned music education institutions in our area, should be more than enough to revive and support this music for another generation to enjoy.

Modern mandolin ensembles and orchestras play a wide variety of music including classical, regional folk, country, jazz, and more.  Here’s a link to one performance by the New American Mandolin Ensemble, playing “The City Awakens” by Emiel Stöpler

You’re invited to join us for "Mando, Mando! A Mandolin Gathering" Saturday, Feb 23, 1:00 - 2:30 at Bernunzio's Uptown Music (122 East Avenue, Rochester). Mandolin family instruments and guitars are invited to come together to play some ensemble music.  The sheet music is available in advance to those planning to attend and play. Sign up on line through the Rochester Mando United Facebook page  or the Bernunzio Uptown Music website.   Walk-ins also welcome. 

And here's some more mandolin orchestra music - the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra led by Brian Oberlin in the premiere of his work "Northern Waters"