About Mandolin Orchestras
The mandolin evolved from the lute family over several hundred years in Italy. The mandolin commonly played today is descended from the type created in Naples during the 18th century most likely first developed by the Vinaccia family. The mandolin has a family of instruments of which it is the high soprano voice. The tuning and range of the mandolin family corresponds to that of the violin family:
Mandolin = Violin
Mandola = Viola
Mandocello = Cello
This allows mandolin family instruments to borrow repertoire for solo, quartet, and orchestral playing from the violin family of instruments in addition to a large body of music composed especially for the mandolin. Many celebrated composers such as Beethoven, Hummel, Mozart, and Vivaldi wrote original works for the mandolin. From the late 1800 ‘s to the early 1900 ‘s there were several mandolin composers and virtuosos in Europe and the United States
A mandolin craze swept the nation from the 1880’s to the 1920’s. Soon mandolin clubs and orchestras sprang up in nearly every town, in Kalamazoo we had several groups (a few that we know about from articles and old photographs include Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo College, YMCA, The Gibsonians, and many others). The repertoire of these groups usually consisted of a mix of classical, marches, rags, and popular music of the day.
After World War I and into the 1920’s, the popularity of the mandolin declined as musical tastes changed jazz and dance bands became popular. In America, the mandolin had become obscure by the time that Bill Monroe (mandolinist and father of bluegrass music) re-introduced it with his bluegrass band in the mid 1940’s. For the next several decades the mandolin was strongly associated with only bluegrass music.
Since the formation of the Classical Mandolin Society of America in 1986 by Norman Levine, the mandolin has enjoyed a renaissance and mandolin ensembles have re-formed in many cities throughout the U.S. The CMSA holds an annual convention in a different city each year and features concerts, workshops, and a large en-masse plucked string orchestra of over 100 players. In addition to publishing a quarterly journal and holding an extensive library of mandolin orchestra scores, the CMSA has done much to promote classical mandolin ensemble and teaching