Imagine a time when leisure was not dominated by the internet, television or even radio. Entertainment was provided by live artists, performing dance, theatre and music. These artists may have performed in local clubs or theaters, but often "porch-stoop" performances provided entertainment. American and ethnic folk music was passed on and expanded in this fashion as families and friends spent time together enjoying music and conversation. In part, the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra seeks to promote and preserve this rich tradition of live music and musicianship through both education and performance.
The mandolin played a central role in the musical history of the early twentieth century. Given its association with many different ethnicities, the mandolin was a key instrument associated with music of this time period. Mandolins were featured in European classical and gypsy music and immigrants and families brought these musical traditions to many local communities. From this, American folk, Appalachian, jazz and bluegrass styles, among others, emerged and the mandolin saw increased prominence.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mandolin orchestras became prominent in many cities. Pittsburgh was home to many orchestras that were spread across the city. Many local neighborhoods, including Wilkinsburg, Sewickly, the North Hills, New Brighton, and Pittsburgh had community groups. Other orchestras were organized within the local schools and colleges, including Ursuline Academy, Chatham University and Carnegie Tech.
References to the original Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra suggest the group was formed in 1918 and performed regularly across the city in both formal and social settings. Newspaper reviews and announcements indicate the original orchestra was very successful, performing a variety of classical and popular tunes of the time. By mid-century, however, the group was no longer performing. The current Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra was founded by Alan Epstein in 2002, and early rehearsals were held in his living room in Aspinwall. The orchestra gave its first public performance on April 11, 2003, and included 15 musicians. Since then, the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra has rehearsed and played continuously and has grown in size and musical diversity.
We are thrilled that, in 2017, Pittsburgh has the largest mandolin orchestra in the United States. Our membership has grown to more than 30 active musicians of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom perform with vintage Gibson and Martin instruments that were originally used in turn-of-the-century mandolin orchestras. Our Music Director, Charley Rappaport, is a World Master Folk Musician whose vast knowledge of the music of many cultures gives us the opportunity to present a diverse program for our listeners.