#13 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings – a mandolin orchestra from Rochester?

Amongst the instructional vinyls/booklets from the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the Mandolin Instruction: Old Time, Country & Fiddle Tunes by Michael Holmes is worth a separate post, because it contains a picture of a mandolin group from Rochester in 1927!

I was told by Mr. John Bernunzio – owner of Bernunzio Uptown Music, that the mandolin was popular in Rochester back in the day, but a google search of “Rochester Mandolin Orchestra” does not yield much. On his blog, John showed a picture of a mandolin orchestra from Rochester ca. 1920 . I tried comparing personnel in John’s picture with the one above… I am not at all good at recognizing faces, and I don’t think they are the same group. What do you think?

The group name “Arabella F. Krug and Orchestra” is also interesting. Why were they not the “Rochester Mandolin Orchestra”? It’s easy to name a group after the town/city one resides in, and I understand it usually comes with good intention: to build something for the community. But, I have heard stories of people resenting groups named after a city/town – do the groups really represent everyone in town?

Anyhow, the Folkways vinyl booklet also contain a lot of pictures of other musical/mandolin groups and advertisements between 1890 to 1927. Pictures of musical groups include:

  • South’s greatest “Old-time string band” from “Old Virginny”
  • Bellson Plectral Orchestra, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Killgore’s Orchestra, Grand Rapids, Michgan
  • M.E. Sunday School String Orchestra, Galena, Kansas
  • The Lavery Gibson Club, Detriot, Michigan
  • Terrace Garden Quartet, Chicago, Illinois
  • Rybka’s Orchestra, Portland, Oregon
  • Silk City Plectral Sextet, Paterson, New Jersey
  • Gibson Mandolin Club, Hagerstown, Maryland
  • Floreine Mandolin Club, St. Louis, Missouri
  • The Cadenza Mandolin Orchestra, Spokane, Washington
  • The Monroe Brothers and Byron Parker (The Old Hired Hand)
  • Hoyt Ming & the Pepsteppers

John mentioned about taking mandolin lessons from Veda Santos, and kindly lent me a few mandolin method books from Don Santos (Veda’s husband). Naturally, I had to look them up. Not much could be found about Veda other than a few blog posts from John, but a few interesting things came along by looking up Don Santos: a) he published method books for many instruments – plectrum guitar, tenor banjo, mandolin, Hawaiian guitar, and accordion (by William Turnboo) (could there be more?); b) a front cover picture on the Crescendo magazine from 1925 that praised him as a sought after teacher and performer; c) reports from the Music Trade Review on the annual Santos contest for banjos, guitars and mandolin bands in Rochester, with banjo bands, mandolin orchestras, Hawaiian guitar bands, and Spanish guitar bands(!?); and d) banjo virtuoso Frederick J. Bacon published music through Santos’s publishing company (various footnotes in Fred Bacon’s Wikipedia page).

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