In fact, Vivaldi wrote a concert for the mandolin and Mozart featured it in a serenade. And during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was the instrument of choice, arriving in the United States with European immigrants who held the mandolin in high esteem.
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Maybe it was the sound that made it so popular — distinctive, shimmering and ethereal.
It also was inexpensive. In the 1920s, a mandolin could be purchased for 75 cents in the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs.
Regardless of the reason, for many years the mandolin took on a life of its own, said Jim Blanchard. There were mandolin orchestras and ensembles around the world. In the United States, college campuses featured mandolin clubs to complement their glee groups.
But the instrument began to fall out of favor during the jazz age, Blanchard said, when brass became all the rage.
Even though the mandolin was reborn years later in bluegrass, the once-common mandolin orchestras were almost extinct.
Now, such ensembles are making a comeback, thanks to contemporary musicians such as Blanchard, who is a member of the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra.
The BMO will bring its special sound to Hagerstown at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, when it performs in a benefit concert for Rebecca "Alli" Rogers, 24, who has been diagnosed with lymphangiomatosis — a condition marked by the presence of cysts or tumors that grow in the lymph system. Her condition was profiled in August in The Herald-Mail.
Tickets are $25, with all proceeds being used for the young woman's medical expenses.
The idea of bringing the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra to Hagerstown originated with Rebecca Rogers' stepmother, Linda Rogers of Mercersburg, Pa., who had been considering various fundraising possibilities.
Linda Rogers said she spoke to her friend, Beatrice Gilbert, who is a soprano with the orchestra, and the two planned the concert. The Maryland Theatre donated the use of the theater for the event.
Rogers said all proceeds will strictly be used for Alli's expenses.
"Since she cannot work and has no money coming in, the Patti Pollatos Fund will store the money and pay out Alli's earned money from the concert, as well as any donations for her expenses," Rogers said.
Rogers said family and friends are hoping to Skype the concert so Alli, who lives in Salisbury, Md., can be a part of the event.
"I know these are hard times for everyone," Rogers said. "And through all of our endeavors to this point, the Hagerstown community has been very generous. If they could pull through once again for this fundraiser, Alli and her family would be most grateful."
Blanchard, who plays in the second mandolin section of the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra, said, in general, most people are surprised to learn such a group exists.
"But mandolin orchestras have a celebrated history," he noted. "And, thanks to organizations like the Classical Mandolin Society of America, they are gaining in notoriety and popularity."
According to Blanchard, the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra, under the direction of Kristin Turner, is one of about 30 mandolin orchestras. It was organized in 1924 and flourished until 1929, when it lapsed into a period of inactivity. It started up again in 1938 but disbanded during World War II. It was resurrected in the 1970s.