John Whitacre performs traditional music of the British Isles specializing in tunes popular in colonial America on violin, mandolin family instruments, mountain dulcimer, and guitar. He started violin in fifth grade at Clearmount School in North Canton and took the usual route of school orchestra and classical lessons. He played for four years in the Canton Youth Symphony and for nine years in the Tuscarawas Philharmonic Orchestra, but he was always drawn to traditional music. He started guitar in ninth grade, added other instruments over the years, and discovered Celtic music in 1989. He has studied music theory and also plays ukulele, Autoharp, and banjo.
John plays and teaches at folk music festivals and historical festivals, and he is focusing on solo gigs as a historical musician and on recording music of the 18th century and original music written in the style of 18th-century Scottish music. He is a historian with a B.A. from Kent State, a calligrapher, and an avid reader of many subjects, studying to be a polymath.
John Whitacre’s Music of the Colonies
I present a program of historical Celtic music from the 18th century. I play tunes that were popular in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the British colonies in the 1700s, explaining people and events associated with those tunes, the different types of tunes and their uses, and instruments played at the time. This program combines my love of early American history and music, and I draw the music from republications and reprints of books from the 18th century. I play a Baroque-Celtic style of music, using Baroque classical technique and traditional Celtic styles to recreate the Scottish Drawing Style of the middle 18th century.
Whence came the name Rampant Mandolin?
I began playing traditional Celtic music in 1989 and, within about a year, after acquiring my mandola, developed the idea of a Celtic mandolin consort consisting of mandolin, mandola, and octave mandolin, similar to the orchestral string quartet but playing Celtic music. Many modern Celtic bands use bigger mandolins, variously called cittern, bouzouki, or octave mandolin, and a few use mandolins, but rarely do those instruments stand out front as the featured instruments. Most often they are nearly lost in the mix, drowned out by fiddle, whistle, flute, and pipes, which are louder and have more sustain, or they play a supporting role, providing chordal or arpeggio accompaniment.
Wanting to bring the mandolin to the fore in Celtic music, I took my music name from the Scottish royal standard, the Rampant Lion, rampant being a heraldric term referring to an animal standing on one hind leg with one foreleg raised above the other and the head in profile. It’s an aggressive pose, and the name Rampant Mandolin implies that I mean to make the mandolin a strong voice in my music, standing out front, not supporting other instruments or lost in the mix. The word mandolin even contains the word lion — you can anagram “mandolin” to “damn lion.”
More About The Music
The music I play is a Baroque-Celtic hybrid. It’s a style played in the British Isles in the1700s, in Scotland called Scottish Drawing Room Music, a mix of traditional Celtic dance music and Baroque arrangements.
It helps to know that in the 18th century traditional and classical music were close cousins. Many musicians played both styles, and Baroque music was not far removed from its dance roots, evidenced by the wealth of suites that were collections of movements in varying dance forms. Drawing Room Music often took a Scottish dance melody and arranged it in sets of variations patterned after those Baroque suites. Variations were written as melodic and rhythmic variants of the original tune, the former introducing more complicated musical phrases, the latter similar phrases in different dance forms.
I also play fife and bagpipe marches on string instruments, and I play English, Scottish, and Irish jigs, reels, and hornpipes. I especially love the slow, hauntingly beautiful airs that constitute a large part of the Celtic repertoire and the tunes of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century Irish harper whose tunes, like Scottish Drawing Room Music, blended Baroque and traditional elements. Finally, I have written tunes in the style of 18th-century Scottish music.
This was the music popular in the British Isles and colonial America in the 1700s, and through my music I recreate a bit of the feel of an evening of music in colonial times.