In the summer of 1988 Louisville mandolinist Michael Schroeder brought together a group of musicians who would come to be known as the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra.Schroeder wanted to revive the tradition of the "mandolin clubs" which had thrived in the early years of this century in Louisville and elsewhere.
Louisville's newspaper,The Courier-Journal, featured Schroeder and his novel idea of resurrecting the "mandolin club" in a front-page "Arts" section story early in the summer of 1988. The idea appealed to an eclectic group of mandolinists and guitarists who read the Courier-Journal story and answered the call for musicians.
From Idea to Reality
Rehearsals begin and new friends are made.
The first three months of LMO's existence proved exciting. Weekly rehearsals took place on Saturday mornings at the University of Louisville, with each week bringing new faces and instruments to the mix.
One of those new faces was Jim Bates, a bass player and public school music teacher who took on the job of LMO conductor. Bates' high energy and good-humored enthusiasm meshed perfectly with the eclectic mix of personalities who made up LMO. His ability to encourage players to improve without being overly critical inspired the group. Forced to deal with many musicians who had not played in an ensemble setting and with others whose ensemble playing had been in bluegrass and/or rock groups, Bates provided the spark that united the group musically.
Mike Schroeder continued to recruit new players and introduce new music to the group, challenging the members (many of whom did not read music well) to move their playing to a higher level.
By summer's end, the group had tackled a wide range of music, including "Recuerdos de l' Alhambra" by Francesco de Tarrega, "The Avignon Suite" by Fried Walter, and "Ein gut Danzeren: Funf Tanze um 1600" (Five European Dances) by Elke Tober-Vogt.
In September of 1988 LMO received an invitation from Richard Van Kleeck, Director of the Lonesome Pine Special Concert Series at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, to perform in the opening concert of the Lonesome Pine fall series. The show, "Mando Magnificat," would feature mandolin stars Sam Bush (of Newgrass Revival fame), Mike Marshall and The Modern Mandolin Quartet.
The LMO prepared feverishly for its debut, polishing the suite of five European dances by Tober-Vogt and Walter's "Avignon Suite," and working through two pieces to be performed with Sam Bush and The Modern Mandolin Quartet. These two pieces, Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" and George Frideric Handel's "Water Music," provided the most difficult challenge yet for the fledgling group.
At 8:00 p.m. on October 7, 1988 in the Bomhard Theater of the Kentucky Center for the Arts, Richard Van Kleeck took the stage to welcome the audience and to announce that Governor Wallace Wilkinson had proclaimed this day Louisville Mandolin Orchestra Day in Kentucky. The LMO then opened the show. The hours of intense preparation paid off as the 24-member ensemble, under the direction of conductor Jim Bates, took the stage and played to an enthusiastic sold-out crowd.
Mando Magnificat proved a rousing success. Near the end of the show when Van Kleeck again took the stage to direct The Modern Mandolin Quartet, Sam Bush and LMO in the "Water Music" and "Hoedown," the audience knew they were in for a treat. And those on the stage knew that they were creating a sound not heard in Louisville since the early part of this century, the sound of a true mandolin ensemble.
Mando Magnificat ended with "Hoedown," featuring a terrific set of solo performances by Bush and Marshall. The audience roared its approval and rewarded the musicians with a lengthy standing ovation.
The following day a glowing review of the evening's performance appeared in The Courier Journal which included a summary of the previous months effort within a paragraph.
Building repertoire and technique.
After the tremendous response to their debut, LMO set about to expand its repertoire and to improve the technique of its players. Under the guidance of Conductor Jim Bates the group began learning Antonio Vivaldi's "Concerto in G Major for Two Mandolins" and Siegfried Behrend's "Suite nach japanischen Kinderliedern" (Japanese Children's Songs Suite).
Meanwhile LMO discovered a composer in its midst. John Goodin, a mandolin / octave-mandolin / guitar player, introduced the group to a tune he had written about a famous road in Louisville. "Up River Road," a complex and musically challenging melody, soon became a trademark tune of LMO. Eventually this tune became the opening piece of "The Louisville Suite." The second and third movements, "Cave Hill" and "Locust Grove," evoke the spirit of a well-known Louisville cemetery (Cave Hill) and the home of American frontiersman George Rogers Clark (Locust Grove). In the years that followed, LMO would express itself time and time again through the music of John Goodin and internationally known European mandolin orchestras would perform (and even record) his compositions.
All in all, 1988 proved be be an eventful first year for the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra and set the course for many productive years to follow.