Friday, February 22, 2019

My First Mandolin

I bought my first mandolin in March 1990 at Ross Music in Akron, Ohio,  which sold a host of acoustic instruments, accessories, and music books. I bought some of my first traditional music books there, including "The Fiddler's Fakebook", which was popular with musicians of my ilk.
This is my first mandolin, now owned by my nephew Brian.
To digress, while browsing a vendor's goods at the Great Black Swamp Dulcimer Festival in April, I overheard a lady ask if a certain tune was in that book, and I said I thought it was and quickly turned to it because tunes are listed alphabetically by title. She was amazed, thinking I had the book memorized, but I was honest and told her about the book's abecedarian system.
But back to my mandolin. It wasn't the first mandolin I had played -- I borrowed my Aunt Mickey's mandolin a couple years earlier and enjoyed playing it, eventually returning it. I bought the cheap beginner model at Ross because it was all I could afford, and this was a case of getting what you pay for. It had thin sound and high action, but it was a mandolin and served as a learning tool while I saved for a Jones instrument, and Thom Humphrey, the store owner, lowered the action for me.

Thom and Kathy Humphrey ran Ross Music, on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue, having bought the store, which is now defunct, in 1978 from Mike and Jim Ross, and every year starting that first year they hosted a Christmas Eve open house jam, providing food and drinks.I attended in 1990 after getting off work. I finished work at 1:00 -- I worked at Costigan's Office Supply in customer service -- and visited the open house that afternoon. Russ Musarra wrote an article about the open house for the Akron Beacon Journal and mentioned me as being a Celtic music specialist. I played mandola that day (more on it in a future post) and was one of only two Celts among the bluegrass and jazz musicians, a common occurrence.
But I have once again meandered ahead of my mandolin musings. My mandolin had no brand name or label on it, so I never knew its provenance. I was happy with it at the time, not truly aware of its impoverished sound because I had not yet acquired the superb instruments that lay in wait for me a few months down the road.I took my mandolin -- and my mountain dulcimer (more on that later too) -- to work most days, ate lunch at my desk just before lunch break, and practiced either in the basement in cold weather or at a nearby park along the Cuyahoga River on warm days. I learned quickly and obsessively, taking flatpick tips from Tom and from a special flatpicking issue of Frets Magazine issue that Tom loaned me.
I quickly came to love the mandolin, a love that has only grown stronger, and in the mandolin, and especially the Celtic mandolin, I found my calling. That interest grows stronger all the time, and poor is the day when I have no mandolin time.
Being a collector and a faithful journal writer, I still have that ABJ article,and the photo of five men playing banjo, mandolin, fiddle and guitars, surrounded by the cozy clutter of the music store stock, takes me back to that first year when all in the traditional music world was new and I was learning to immerse myself in a music and culture that somehow had always been within me.

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