This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

As Pretty as a Picture

29 April 2016

Taking a group photograph requires real artistic skill to get it right. A photographer needs good timing to recognize that one second when all eyes are on the camera lens. Setting a correct focus and fixing a flattering light are equally important.  And of course in the age of film, no photographer could check the image for its success or failure until after the negative was developed and printed.

A photographer's dark room is a place of  almost mystical alchemy. Complete blackness cloaks the room except for a red safety light. Strange odors emanate from chemical soups. Like a conjurer the photographer watches the image slowly materialize onto the paper. He must judge the best moment to rescue the paper and transfer it to another bath before the ghosts dissolve into shadows. Only then does he know if his incantations have worked.

The anonymous photographer of this photo postcard smiled when thirteen lovely faces revealed themselves for the first time. These young ladies are a mandolin orchestra. We can not know their names, nor their home town. But it shouldn't stop us from admiring their fine portrait. 

The mandolin has eight strings but the pitches are doubled and share the same tuning as the violin. Like the violin family, the mandolin comes in different sizes and collectively mandolin instruments can play the same range of notes available to a string orchestra.

If you search for "mandolin orchestra" on YouTube, you will discover that there are thousands of videos from groups all around the world. These plucked and strummed instruments have a devoted international following that have arranged an astonishing variety of music. This splendid performance by the Madeira Mandolin Orchestra demonstrates why the mandolin is so popular. It's also a fine video portrait of young musicians concentrating on their music.  



Here in Appalachia, far from the Portuguese island of Madeira, the mandolin is often heard as the treble voice in traditional American bluegrass music. In August 2012, a record number of 389 mandolins played together in one gigantic mandolin ensemble at the Galax Fiddler's Convention, in Galax, Virginia. The music is the well known tune, Cripple Creek.

The video has some fun portraits of musicians too.
Bet you can't stop tapping your foot.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone always likes a pretty picture.


Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

A great photograph - and the mandolin pieces are wonderful. I'm sure you know
about Evan Marshall. If not, you can see his outstanding playing here:

Barbara said...

I’m married to a photographer and recognise the strange odours you refer to although they are a thing of the past (for him) now. These days he takes several group shots and if anyone has their eyes closed he simply ‘cuts’ their face out of another of the photographs and transfers it onto the one he wants to use. It is more complicated than that of course and requires a good knowledge of Photoshop – but it looks like magic to me. I’m enjoying reading this week's posts, although I’ve not done one myself. I enjoyed all your photographs, thank you.

La Nightingail said...

I do like the way you feature single portraits, then pull the 'whole' together. It's always fun to wonder what's coming up at the conclusion. :) My husband played guitar in a Bluegrass group for several years. The leader of the group played guitar, too, but also played the mandolin & very well. He actually wound up playing with Bill Monroe in Nashville for a while. The group my husband played with often practiced at our house & what fun it was!

Boobook said...

Like La Nightingail I enjoy the way you show the individuals before you show us the full group. I'm continually surprised, and in awe of, the sharpness of the old photos.

Lavender and Vanilla Friends of the Gardens said...

It is wonderful to hear and to see all these people with a common passion for music. The single portraits are lovely. It is a bit sad, that their names and the orchestra are anonymous. I have a few Italian mandolin concertos in my music collection. I did not know that Mandolin music was still so popular.

Tattered and Lost said...

A deconstruction! Lovely ladies. Oh to hear them chatter amongst themselves and then play in unison.

Love watching the last video. The faces, the expressions of each player…priceless.

Little Nell said...

I’m glad you directed us to focus on their faces. What a pity we can’t hear them play. Do you ever see any of the ‘Celtic Connections ‘ or ‘Transatlantic Connections’ TV programmes? There have been some lovely mandolin peices on those.

Jofeath said...

Lovely photograph. My grandmother Myrtle played the mandolin but I don't think she was ever part of a mandolin orchestra.

tony said...

I bet they played with gusto! And a very handsome/pretty bunch. The word "dedicated" is the best way I can think to describe the way they hold both themselves & their instruments.
A groovy video too!


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