November/December Mandolin Diary

December 2020

By Lucia · 4 minute read

I was lying in bed on 4th November trying to get to sleep when I suddenly got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had broken my streak!! By the 10th November I had already had 4 days off and from then on it was a slippery slope.

I hadn’t really envisaged how busy the approach to Christmas would be, despite the lack of playing work, but it seems musicians just like inventing projects whether or not there’s an audience, so my daily practice will have to resume in the New Year!

Nevertheless, I still have a few Grade 3 pieces to share with you and can’t wait to pick up where I left off. I’ve come up with a list of reasons why I wanted to take up the mandolin in the first place which will hopefully spur me on:

  • Identity: A colleague recently asked if I’d be interested in buying a mandolin her husband was selling. As soon as her husband heard my Italian name he knew I wouldn’t be interested in his flat-back instrument. Bowl-back mandolins are in my heritage (read more in Mandolinspiration)!
  • Versatility: When I was at music college, we were encouraged to take up the viola as it could make us more employable. This has certainly been true for me: string quartets and orchestras can book me before they know if I’m needed on violin or viola and some shows require players to play both instruments. I now know that there are even shows that require the violinist to double on mandolin! Currently under the “other info” heading in my Musicians Answering Service account it says: “Plays Mandolin (but can only do Don Giovanni on it)”. I would so love to change this, and work my mandolin playing up to professional level too.
  • Progress: It feels so good to turn the page in my technique book as I say goodbye to an old grade and hello to a new one. And it’s also great discovering composers I hadn’t heard of before!
  • Conversation starter: It has surprised me how many friends had parents or grandparents who played the mandolin. It must have been the perfect instrument for whiling away long technology-less evenings: it’s a lot cheaper and smaller than a piano too! I mentioned before that I also have mandolin in my ancestry, however since starting this project in August I have discovered that my paternal grandfather played the mandolin without owning one, and my maternal great-grandmother owned one but never played it! So in my head I’m completing the mandolin story of both sides of my family.

I think that’s enough reasons to get me going in the New Year! Now for November’s videos:

Reflections

I kicked off the month with the first of my Grade 3 recordings, a calming mandolin solo by Barbara Pommerenke-Steel. It’s a great little piece for getting used to 3rd position and harmonics.

I found I was initially thumping the chords a bit in an attempt to hit all the notes, but once I started imagining ripples in the water I found it much easier to stroke them more elegantly. Watching back, I could have played closer to the fingerboard to get a more resonant sound, but this is something I can work on in future practice sessions.

Proof if I needed it that filming yourself can be a very useful exercise in self-improvement!

Lecce

My other November offering comes from Italian composer Francesco Lecce, an elusive character who I can find next-to-nothing about online or in my various mandolin books. I particularly enjoyed the passage you can hear at 00:23 where the high melody line is interspersed with a harmony line on the lower strings – great string-crossing practice!

December

December’s mandolin output comprised a few birthday videos for friends (one based on Dean Martin’s That’s Amore!) and this four-mandolin version of Carol of the Bells which formed part of my email subscribers’ Advent Calendar.

I think it turned out quite well for my first ever mandolin arrangement, although next time I may try to include a higher line to space out the texture. I can now report that the mandolin sound in Sibelius* is even less realistic than the violin sound – it took a bit of getting used to…!

*music writing computer software.

Onwards and upwards

Returning to my dedicated grade practice towards the end of this month, I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly things have come flooding back to me. I played the first Grade 3 scale in my technique book and knew exactly what came next without looking! I definitely need to get back on the chord practice, as tablature charts are now a mystery to me once more, but my flashcards will help with this. I’m aiming to get the rest of my grade 3 videos done in January, so keep an eye on the videos page!

Playing the mandolin has brought me so much joy this year. Do you have an old instrument gathering dust that could do with some attention in 2021? Get in touch and let me know!

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