Paul Ruppa has written the following article for the Mandolin Journal of the Classical Mandolin Society of America (CMSA). To make this article available for the mandolin community he asked me to publish it in my blog.
Using the internet three years ago, I began to build a list of the oldest active mandolin orchestras around the world. Initially, because I did not know the best way to search for the relevant information, the results were not very good. Even asking friends outside the United States for the names of the oldest active orchestras in their homelands was not very successful. After several years of starts and stops in the research, the list included only about thirty names.
With some time on my hands in 2020, expanding the list of the world’s oldest mandolin orchestras seemed like a timely and important project. A motivating factor behind the project was the fact that my group, the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra was a well-documented 120 years old. It seemed unlikely that a mandolin orchestra in the Dairy State could be the home of the oldest such ensemble in the world. Thanks to generous members of the internet’s mandolin community, we now know that there are at least a half dozen similar and older groups in Europe and many others with long histories.
The project took off on the “Mandolin World” Facebook page with a call for information about active mandolin ensembles that formed prior to 1971. There were a surprising number of responses. One of the best parts of the exercise was finding how much mandolin history has been made by devoted amateur, fretted-instrument players worldwide.
There were just 33 pre-1971 entries on the list when the project went online. In a few weeks, with the help of mandolin enthusiasts on the internet, 103 qualifying mandolin organizations were identified. In an attempt to make the list more readable, I set arbitrary milestones at 100, 50 and 30 years.
- 36 orchestras were at least 100 years old, two in that group had a tradition going backas far as 135 years.
- 53 in the next grouping were at least 50 years old and five began as early as 1922 (99 years ago)
- 14 active mandolin orchestras that started operating before 1971 provided start dates between 30 and 49 years ago.
Mandolin orchestras from sixteen different countries were represented in the results of this project.
International Country Codes Used Above
Belgium = BE Bulgaria = BU Canada = CA France = F Germany = D Italy = IT Japan = JP Luxembourg = LU Netherlands = NL Portugal = PT Switzerland = CH United States = USA
After noting how many different countries were represented in the list of mandolin orchestras, the next step was to assemble a nation-by-nation breakdown of organizations more than thirty years old. The nation-sorted list features the cited countries presented in alphabetical order with the recognized ensembles sorted alphabetically rather than by age.
Here is another sort of the current data related to 100-year-old mandolin orchestras. It groups the ensembles by their home nation and then in alphabetical order. The origin year is listed, but not a sorting factor.
In the collection of data, effort was taken to be inclusive and to get the spelling of ensemble names correct. Publishing the list at this point presents readers the opportunity to make corrections and perhaps provide additions.
When possible, ensemble names submitted were checked and confirmed by locating the existence of internet websites for those organizations.
While the number of orchestras on this list may seem greater than one might expect, there are likely many more. The results were gathered within a limited time frame and the request for submissions went to a rather small pool of potential respondents.
While looking at different arrays of the data, two obvious questions should be asked. Is there a common trait in the makeup of the oldest mandolin orchestras and why have they thrived in the respective countries in which they exist?
It is disappointing to realize that those questions are not yet answerable. Knowing what common traits are found in the longest surviving mandolin orchestras and why certain countries had more enduring groups could help sustain a variety of orchestras in their respective countries. Answers to those questions may eventually be answered in the future following objective research into the history of mandolin organizations selected from these lists.
At least it is possible to list a few of the things that have sustained the oldest American mandolin organization, the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra. Shortly after the original group of friends began playing mandolins and guitars together, they bought music as a collective and hired a local music teacher as a director. Within a few months, the decided to formally establish themselves as an educational non-profit corporation with By-Laws, a Board of Directors and a Mission Statement.
In the mid-1980’s, the Orchestra embraced the idea of presenting public concerts featuring the best music published for mandolin orchestras in the American Mandolin Orchestra Era (1896-1925). The Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra has gone from six members in 1981 to twenty-five in 2020.
Thanks to all the musicians who added their information to this project making it possible to acknowledge the existence of dedicated mandolin orchestra members around the world. Special recognition must be offered to the individuals who have stepped up over the years to keep their local traditions growing.
Mandolin World members who contributed data are: Col Bernau, Pascaline Besancenez, Marion Blaze, Pietro Bono, Nicholas Brichler, Gemmy Chasse, Matthias Collet, Donatella Dentico, Ma En, Monika Fuchs-Warmhold, Sebastiaan de Grebber, Daniëlle de Rover, Gianni Flego, Jougla Gerard, Salima Ben Guigui, Richard Giusti, Alberdina Markus-Grönefeld, Dominik Hackner, Gerhard Hählen, Annemie Hermans, Taku Hijikata, Nanni Jelinek, Stéphanie Junio, Josiane Klein, Takashi Kobayashi, Natalia Korsak, Katherine Lasso, Marie Laure, Mark Linkins, Jörg Magenreuter, MandoIsland, Robert Margo, Elizabeth Neeson, Gianni Ora, Katsia Prakopchyk, Raphaël Rein, Werner Ruecker, Marie Schulz, Staudt Patrick, Sandra Tinner, Jim Trepasso, Marijke & Michiel Wiesenekker
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