Website(s) with mandolin orchestra recordings?
September 8, 2004 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of a site that has sound recordings (either for sale or download) of early American mandolin orchestras (early 20th century)? I've been looking at the Smithsonian and Library of Congress but haven't found much. I'm assuming that given the time period they would mostly have been recorded on wax cylinders.
posted by tommasz to Computers & Internet (2 answers total)
They're not orchaestras, but there're some early recordings with mandolin here.
posted by bitpart at 2:02 PM on September 8, 2004

Try working your way through the various local mandolin orchestra sites. Here's a few, some with contemporary recordings of the ensemble:

Providence. Louisville. Minnesota. Bloomfield. Beer-Sheva. Seattle. Baltimore.

Dropping the main contact a note inquiring after old recordings would be the first thing I would try. Mandolins have a high collector-geek factor and I'm sure you'll find someone who collects the material.

Turning away from the extant orchestras, you might post this query at the Mandolin Cafe, which is pretty much the HQ for mandolinny goodness on the web. They have a large mp3 archive, but I did not note older material. Also, it looks as though Butch Baldassari was looking for similar material, but not orchestrally focused, last October. Here's an article in which Butch discusses his interest in mandolin orchestras. He notes that the music was released on 78s.

Finally, here's a Gruhn-hosted reprint of a 1979 Frets piece on the history of mandolin orchestras.

My own recollection is that the orchestras were often composed of working-class immigrants, and I suspect that this may have made the commercial appeal of issuing recordings limited in the eyes of the early labels. Additionally, I know I've read that the blue-collar composition of the mando orchestras positioned them as a threat to the established order, and that reviews of the concerts were often unfriendly. I recall one in which the orchestra's sound was described as "terrifying."

On the other hand, I'd give my eyeteeth for a recording of a mandolin orchestra, circa 1910, playing the Internationale, so good luck to you!
posted by mwhybark at 3:10 PM on September 8, 2004

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