Mandolin ensemble to perform in benefit "Life for Alli' concert

October 17, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform Sunday at The Maryland Theatre for Life for Alli, a benefit concert. Soprano Beatrice Gilbert, in blue dress, will perform as well.
Submitted photo

When most music fans think of the mandolin, they usually think of bluegrass. But the stringed instrument is just as comfortable at opera as the Grand Ole Opry.

In fact, Vivaldi wrote a concert for the mandolin and Mozart featured it in a serenade. And during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was the instrument of choice, arriving in the United States with European immigrants who held the mandolin in high esteem.

Maybe it was the sound that made it so popular — distinctive, shimmering and ethereal.

It also was inexpensive. In the 1920s, a mandolin could be purchased for 75 cents in the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs.

Regardless of the reason, for many years the mandolin took on a life of its own, said Jim Blanchard. There were mandolin orchestras and ensembles around the world. In the United States, college campuses featured mandolin clubs to complement their glee groups.

But the instrument began to fall out of favor during the jazz age, Blanchard said, when brass became all the rage.

Even though the mandolin was reborn years later in bluegrass, the once-common mandolin orchestras were almost extinct.

Now, such ensembles are making a comeback, thanks to contemporary musicians such as Blanchard, who is a member of the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra.

The BMO will bring its special sound to Hagerstown at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, when it performs in a benefit concert for Rebecca "Alli" Rogers, 24, who has been diagnosed with lymphangiomatosis — a condition marked by the presence of cysts or tumors that grow in the lymph system. Her condition was profiled in August in The Herald-Mail.

Tickets are $25, with all proceeds being used for the young woman's medical expenses.

The idea of bringing the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra to Hagerstown originated with Rebecca Rogers' stepmother, Linda Rogers of Mercersburg, Pa., who had been considering various fundraising possibilities.

Linda Rogers said she spoke to her friend, Beatrice Gilbert, who is a soprano with the orchestra, and the two planned the concert. The Maryland Theatre donated the use of the theater for the event.

Rogers said all proceeds will strictly be used for Alli's expenses.

"Since she cannot work and has no money coming in, the Patti Pollatos Fund will store the money and pay out Alli's earned money from the concert, as well as any donations for her expenses," Rogers said.

Rogers said family and friends are hoping to Skype the concert so Alli, who lives in Salisbury, Md., can be a part of the event.

"I know these are hard times for everyone," Rogers said. "And through all of our endeavors to this point, the Hagerstown community has been very generous. If they could pull through once again for this fundraiser, Alli and her family would be most grateful."

Blanchard, who plays in the second mandolin section of the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra, said, in general, most people are surprised to learn such a group exists.

"But mandolin orchestras have a celebrated history," he noted. "And, thanks to organizations like the Classical Mandolin Society of America, they are gaining in notoriety and popularity."

According to Blanchard, the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra, under the direction of Kristin Turner, is one of about 30 mandolin orchestras. It was organized in 1924 and flourished until 1929, when it lapsed into a period of inactivity. It started up again in 1938 but disbanded during World War II. It was resurrected in the 1970s.

Currently, the orchestra has about 35 members, including three classical guitarists. They play about 15 concerts per year, Blanchard said.

"We are mostly amateurs from all walks of life who have a love of the instrument and music," he said.

He said the orchestra is essentially, the plucked string equivalent of a regular string orchestra.

"We have mandolins that equate to the violin," he said. "Mandolins are tuned exactly the same as violins but instead of the four strings on a violin, mandolins have eight strings — four pairs of strings."

Also, he added, violins have no frets while mandolins have a fretted fingerboard. And mandolins are played with a plectrum or pick.

Blanchard said a mandolin orchestra also has mandolas (tuned the same as violas), mandocellos (violoncello) and mandobasses (double bass.) There also is a classical guitar section to provide a slightly different tone, as well as the rhythm.

"We strive to foster the playing and appreciation of classical and traditional mandolin music," he said.

Blanchard said the orchestra's repertoire includes classical pieces, generally by Italian composers. There is are Celtic and Greek music. But American mandolin music from 100 years ago is more popular, including rags and dance tunes, such as two-steps and waltzes.

"We also play marches," he said. "Believe it or not, marches sound pretty good played by a mandolin orchestra. We also do many contemporary pieces that have been arranged for mandolin orchestras, including big band tunes and pop music, including The Beatles. Show tunes also are audience favorites."

The highlight of their concerts, Blanchard said, is the appearance of soprano Beatrice Gilbert.

"(Her) show-stopping renditions of operatic arias, lieder, Italian favorites and other songs are always a big hit," he said.

If you go ...       

WHAT: "Life for Alli" benefit concert featuring the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra with soprano Beatrice Gilbert

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: Tickets are $25

CONTACT: To purchase tickets, go to or call 301-790-3500

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