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Letters / Band to develop and encourage mandolin-playing

Shetland is renowned for its multitude of very talented musicians, fiddle being the dominant instrument, but the islands are also home to some very good mandolin players.

When players meet at one of the festivals or sessions, the jocular farewell has often been, “So, we’ll have to get a mandolin orchestra on the go!”

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I’m not sure if there would have been enough players to make an ‘orchestra’, but for the past year or so, due to the persuasion of Brian Nicholson at High Level Music and the excellent set-up there for instrument tuition, I’ve been giving mandolin lessons to an increasing number of pupils (16 at present, ranging in age from eight to 73), and the feeling is that the time is now right for setting up a group where all these players, as well as the more experienced players, can get together to have a tune and continue to develop and encourage mandolin playing.

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So, the first practice session of the Shetland Mandolin Band will be held in the Gulberwick Hall on Monday 2 November from 7.30pm and it’s hoped for a good turnout. The band (it’s a bit ambitious to call it an orchestra yet) is open to all players of mandolin and mandolin-type instruments, and all levels of playing ability will be welcomed, although it won’t be a “teaching” session so beginners will maybe have to listen in for a while and join in when they can manage. It’s also hoped to have a “resident” double bassist, and guitarists will be welcomed to provide accompaniment.

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The aim is to play a variety of music, not just traditional, so anyone with experience of classical, bluegrass, swing, jazz etc. playing will be more than welcome. And anyone with “musical director” experience, or ambitions, would also be a very useful addition, although the sessions will be very informal.

I’m not sure if there has ever been a mandolin orchestra in Shetland, and in getting this band under way, I realised I’d like to find out more about the history of the mandolin in the islands. I know a bit about the recent history, but I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has any information, stories or photos relating to the mandolin and mandolin players in Shetland pre-1970s.

A group has been set up on Facebook for the Shetland Mandolin Band. Anyone interested, or who has historical information they’d like to pass on, is welcome to get in touch. I can also be contacted via email at jenny.henry60@gmail.com, text 07787 344073, or you can write to me at the address below.

Jenny Henry

126 Sandveien, Lerwick

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