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I had always been interested in music from an early age, graduating in a very amateur and self-taught way from recorder to piano, clarinet, Eb tenor horn, courtesy of the School Cadet Force band, and guitar. However, on reaching university my musical activities reduced to concert going, initially inspired by the Halle and Liverpool Philharmonic orchestras, until early retirement enabled me to become an active player once more. It was a 'butterfly effect' moment that caused this, when I picked up my wife's newly purchased mandolin and suddenly discovered I enjoyed playing it. Lessons were an obvious way forward, and since Edinburgh is blessed with the excellent Scots Music Group I decided to take advantage of Nigel Gatherer's weekly classes in Celtic mandolin for two years. Nigel's website offers a huge fund of information of tunes and resources and provides an excellent way in to the Traditional Music scene. For current news and events his forum is well worth close examination, as are those on the Mandolin Cafe website; classical players are particularly well served by the Classical, Medieval and Renaissance section.

My interest in the classical mandolin genre was stimulated when I heard a brilliant solo performance by the internationally acclaimed mandolinist, Alison Stephens, at the 'Biggar Little Festival' and also took part in her weekend workshop at Wiston Lodge which was hosted by the Lanarkshire Guitar and Mandolin Association (LGMA). For she very kindly offered to teach me and I remember with great fondness our musical sessions together at her home in St. Neots. An 800 mile 18-hour commute by train for a 3-hour lesson signalled my keenness! Even though she was very ill, she insisted on running a week-long mandolin workshop at the Dartington Summer School, and I am indebted to her not only for what she taught me, and her friendship, but also for introducing me to the world of like-minded mando enthusiasts. Whilst there she was ably assisted by Travis Finch, and the afternoons involved superb joint rehearsals with the guitars under the expert guidance of Craig Ogden. Tragically, Ali lost her fight against cancer on Sunday 10th October 2010, and the musical world lost a truly great companion. For as well as being an exceptional musician and inspirational educator, everyone who met her couldn't help but be infected by her generous heart and positivity.

Since then I have commuted to London to have several superb lessons with Travis, and have taken advantage of workshops organised by the British Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar Federation (BMG) and LGMA with Francis Taylor, Steffi Rauch, Chris Aquavella, Travis Finch and Jochen Ross. As well as organising summer schools and a biennial rally, the BMG website also contains a mine of information, including an extremely useful list of UK orchestras and teachers. Moreover, it is worth joining for the Newsletter alone which always contains fascinating articles and music scores. Residents of Scotland should also seriously consider joining the LGMA. They teach numerous classes which cater for a wide range of abilities, and run both a youth orchestra (Mango) and an adult orchestra (Da Capo Alba). Whilst those mandolinists resident or visiting the USA should contact the Classical Mandolin Society of America list.

There is, of course, another orchestra up here in the frozen north, namely the Edinburgh Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra (EMGO). Formed in 2007 the orchestra is led by Nigel Gatherer, and enjoys music from Scotland to Latin America, from the Beatles to light classical and baroque. The setup comprises three mandolin sections, two guitar sections, mandolas and a bass guitar. The orchestra is a friendly group with people of all ages, and is a great way to develop playing and music-reading skills. New members are very welcome, so if you wish to join us, or simply obtain more information, please email me. EMGO is currently based at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians, located at 3 Belford Road, and rehearsals take place most Thursdays from 7-9pm. An overview, and pictures, of our history, events, ensembles and affiliates can be seen here.

Resources

Music Downloads: There are numerous websites offering music downloads; the following examples are by no means comprehensive but they do provide a good route in. For traditional tunes:

abc converter converts abc notation to score
abc notation links to abc tunes and sortware
Celestia Danish site for international tunes
Folk Finder a search engine for a specific tune if you know the title or some of the melody
Folkets hus Spillefolk Danish folk tunes
Ian Hardie's collection a collection of scores from his tune books
Jack Campins collection an eclectic set of links to a variety of folk styles
Nigel's tunes  a major source containing 100's of traditional tunes in various formats
Kist o Riches 30,000+ oral recordings made in and furth of Scotland from the 1930's onwards
Mandosounds John Kelly's multi-voice Soundcloud recordings
Musical Museum list of Scottish folk and trad mandolinists
Oxford Fiddle 81 popular tunes
Rare Tunes an archive of rare recordings
The Session an exchange site for well-known and more obscure Irish tunes
Traditional Tune Archive a rich source of tunes

Whilst for 'classical' scores:

Andy Boden scores and arrangements (also on SkyDrive), some of which are on Soundcloud
Bach Digital Digital Library of complete digitised, database & works by members of the Bach family
Claudio Columbo a large number of mp3 recordings using three Yamaha digital pianos
Cylinder Archive cylinder preservation and digitization project
Free Gig Music 'popular' parts for small ensembles
Gimo music collected in Italy during the first half of 1762 by the young Swede Jean Lefebure
Grenzland-Verlag Theo Husgen: mandolin & guitar solo pieces and duets
IMSLP Petrucci Music Library
John Craton a list of his works for mandolin, either solo or in ensemble form
John Goodin his Mandotopia site contains links to a variety of mandolin related projects
Kunst der Fuge the largest classical music resource of .mid files
Mandolin Works list of 14,315 works of 2,340 composers.
Michael Reichenbach his personal collection of sheet music
Musicnotes around 250,000 sheet music arangements
Mutopia 1747 scores arranged by instrument, composer and style
Neil Gladd mandolin solos, duets and ensembles
Partifi an automated tool for creating parts from music scores
Raffaele Calace music scores and methods
Radio Tremolo weekly radio show with mandolin and badurra music
Shirmer 'Scores on Demand' - library of digital persusal scores and samples
Steve Hendrick multi-voice arrangements of several hundred renaissance dance tunes
Steve Nixon's ensemble and quartet music downloads
Victor Kioulaphides downloads by a prolific composer for the mandolin - see his website
Viola and Violin contains 340+ scores
Werner Icking a detailed and well-established music archive
WorldCat search engine for scores held in libraries worldwide

Free blank staff and tab music paper can be downloaded here (for example). Whilst Musescore provides a great resource for creating, printing and playing sheet music.

Luthiers: Although there are many fine luthiers who repair stringed instruments, those mandolinists amongst us who live on the east side of central Scotland are ideally served by Steve Agnew. He both builds and repairs mandolins, mandolas, bouzoukis and guitars, and works from a fully equipped workshop in Guardbridge, near St. Andrews, in an idyllic setting by the old bridge across the River Eden. With his superb craftmanship and friendly nature it is no surprise that several of us in the EMGO orchestra rely on his services. Whilst those living in the west of the country should be aware of John Kelly. He not only makes instruments but also contributes a large number of posts on Nigel Gatherer's Tune of the Week forum, attaching multi-track renditions via Soundcloud. Further south, but only just over the border, Roger Bucknall's Fylde instruments offer a popular choice. However, having been entranced by the wonderful sound of Het Consort, I have recently ordered an Embergher no.6 concert mandolin from Hendrik van den Broek.

Online stores: Whilst there are many online stores selling mandolin related items, two are particularly worth noting. Trekel stocks just about everything from Woll picks to mandolins to full orchestral scores (an ability to read German is an advantage); whilst Astute Music has an excellent mandolin catalogue, set up by the late Alison Stephens, that stocks both solo and ensemble pieces from (roughly) grades 1 through to 6. BMG members currently get 10% discount at Newstrings and music ordered through the Victoria College of Music.

Examinations: If you are interested in taking graded examinations contact Victoria College.

Orchestras: Although the number of mandolin orchestras in the world greatly diminished in the 1930s, there has been a recent upsurge in interest. There are three within Scotland, namely:
     EMGO - the Edinburgh Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra (see above & Facebook);
     Da Capo Alba - the LGMA adult mandolin and guitar orchestra; and,
     Mango - the associated youth orchestra.
For a full list within the UK see the BMG site. Whilst for further afield 'Mandoisland' is contructing a comprehensive list by country.

YouTube Channels: Although a search on 'youtube mandolin orchestra' will expose a large number of recordings, it is worth noting that the wonderful Dutch Mandolin Chamber Ensemble, Het Consort, under the baton of Alex Timmerman, has its own dedicated YouTube channel (currently) containing 112 performances. Some of these feature the virtuouso Dutch soloists Sebastiaan de Grebber and Ferdinand Binnendijk. All the perfomances are compulsive viewing, as is the channel of the Ettlingen mandolin orchestra, directed by Boris Bagger. Slightly nearer to home, Barbara Pommerenke-Steel's Da Capo Alba also now feature a dedicated channel. Whilst the Italian orchestra Il Plettro's site is worth examining.

Performance: Two aspects of music development which have a severe impact on the progress of both amateur and professional musicians involve the ability: to practice deeply and efficiently; and, to handle performance nerves. Gerald Klickstein's brilliant book, The Musicians Way, tackles these and other related issues superbly. His blog provides useful, and parallel, sources of ideas for improvement.

Edinburgh Pub Sessions: Edinburgh is blessed with having a large number of instrumental folk sessions, and it is perfectly feasible to drink and play in a different pub every night of the week! The two I frequent take place from 9-11(ish) on Mondays at the Newliston Arms, Kirkliston, and on Wednesdays 9-11 at the Canons Gait on the High Street. These are rated as 'moderate pace', whilst Nigel Gatherer runs a slow session on Wednesday nights (currently at Leslie's Bar, though the location tends to migrate). In contrast, more up tempo ones take place at Diggers (Athletic Arms) on Wednesdays and The Tiq (Antiquary) on Thursdays. For a more complete selection see the Scots Music Group list.