Small Stringed Instruments

Such instruments as ukeleles, mandolins, balalaikas, etc. tend to languish in the forgotten wilderness of musical culture. But even the much-maligned ukelele (which I first saw abused on the Arthur Godfrey show in the 1950s), is capable of playing some great music, as is evidenced by the first clip below, a George Harrison tune performed in New York’s Central Park.

In addition to Salsa, Puerto Rico has some great if little known traditional music, including its own version of Bluegrass: the “jivaro” music of the mountains. In the next clip, Edwin Colon Zayas, a virtuoso of the “cuatro,” pairs up with an equally talented guitarist. Please note that there’s a short break in the sound in the beginning of the clip. As for the setting, I’m not sure why most of the audience comes across like the morning-after victims of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” since I found the improvisation exhilarating.

Finally, if you want to see some amazing virtuosity on a Russian balalaika without even the use of a flatpick, check the following clip out:

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  • i believe i have deep in the bowels of my youtube Favorites a russian balalakai virtuoso in an amazing performance.

    okey, found it (or at least same guy, same event):

  • Strumming up the past in the Rockies – a 1902 photo inspired a revival of an instrument that used to rival the cowboy’s campfire guitar.

    By Corinne Garcia | Contributor / March 11, 2009 CSM edition

    A short sample of the Montana Mandolin Society performing ‘The Texas Fox Trot.’ Used with permission.

    Bozeman, Mont. – The Wild West of the early 1900s conjures up images of dusty saloons, hardened pioneers, and cowboys plucking twangy guitars around a campfire. Few envision well-dressed musicians performing classical music at formal venues to townsfolk dressed in their Sunday best. But a group of Montana musicians has revealed a nugget of state history that until recently was tucked away in a drawer of old photographs. And instead of the cowboy guitar, this history revolves around the mandolin.

    “Not many people can say a photo changed the course of their life,” says Dennis White, professional musician and director of the Bozeman-based Montana Mandolin Society, “but that’s just what happened.”

    Mr. White spent much of his childhood sitting at the knees of old-time fiddlers and banjo pickers while growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, where he caught the music bug. In 1997, he moved from Nashville, Tenn., the capital of country music where he worked as a road musician and in music publishing, to the “cow town” of Bozeman to work for Gibson Guitar. His goal was to help the company reintroduce mandolins into the schools. But right after he arrived, Gibson moved their mandolin department back to Nashville.

    “I put all that on hold,” White says.

    He opened a studio, teaching the banjo and mandolin. “People would come in from all walks of life,” he says. “One of my banjo students came into my studio one day with this photograph.”

    It was a faded, black-and-white photo of the 1902 Bozeman Mandolin and Guitar Club. The staid, well-dressed musicians were holding their instruments: a variety of mandolins, some guitars, and a few banjos.

    “I hung it up in my studio, and when people came in they would always ask me about this picture,” White says.

    Some digging revealed the group comprised an eclectic mix of local business owners, college students, cowboys, government officials, and some city founders. From different walks of life, they shared a love of music, performing together at the Bozeman Opera House and smaller venues and social gatherings from 1902 until 1906.

    On “Valentine’s Day 1902, the renowned mandolin virtuoso Samuel Siegel came to Bozeman and played with these gentlemen,” White says. “And when he did, they inspired all the mandolin playing in this state.”

    Mandolin orchestras were “in” all over the country from 1894 until 1924, eventually fizzling as jazz gained popularity. But Montana was a hotbed of mandolin history, White says.

    more with audio link

    “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” -Henry David Thoreau

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