The Hippo


Jul 24, 2019








Baron Collins-Hill and David Surette. Courtesy photo.

March Mandolin Festival concerts

What: Featuring Mike Compton, Robin Bullock, Baron Collins-Hill, Glen Loper, and David Surette, with special guest Susie Burke. Both concerts often sell out, so pre-ordering is recommended.
Newmarket concert: Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket, Friday, March 4, at 7 p.m.,, 659-7700, $12
Concord concert: Concord Community Music School, 23 Wall St., Concord, Saturday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m.,, 228-1196, $20

Midnight jams
People travel far, play late for March Mandolin Festival

By Kelly Sennott

 If you pass by the Concord Community Music School this weekend, prepare to hear mandolin music — folk, Celtic, bluegrass — at all hours, day and night.

The music school’s 14th Annual March Mandolin Festival occurs this weekend, Friday, March 4, through Sunday, March 6, and while the 50-spot workshops are sold out, tickets are still available for its concerts Friday and Saturday in Newmarket and Concord respectively.
This year’s teaching artists and concert performers are Mike Compton, Robin Bullock, Baron Collins-Hill and Glen Loper, and they come from all over the country. People are traveling great lengths to learn from them, too — most participants hail from New England, but a couple will travel from Quebec and New Brunswick to attend this festival, now a mainstay in the worldwide mandolin niche.
If you didn’t know there was such a thing, you’re not alone. It also came as a surprise to Peggy Senter, founder and president of the CCMS. Once, an out-of-state workshop participant asked her if the entire school was devoted to the mandolin all year long. Given what the event has become, it didn’t seem like an unusual question.
“And I love that! That’s really what it feels like when the festival is happening. It shows how focused these people are on playing the mandolin,” Senter said via phone last week. “It’s a real destination event. … It was astounding to me, as a classical pianist, that there’s this highly impassioned group of mandolin enthusiasts that I just never knew about.”
Passersby will hear a variety of styles emanating from the three-story building — perhaps traditional contra dance (which mixes Irish, French-Canadian and American tunes, event coordinator David Burke said) or maybe some classical or folk music. 
“One of our other guests has been working on a project of transferring some music by Bach to the solo mandolin,” Burke said.
Workshops occur during normal work hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with concerts in between. But it often happens that event-goers, surrounded by musicians with the same mandolin fetish, would rather keep playing. Most stay at the Concord Courtyard Hotel, which, in addition to a group rate, provides a function room for jam sessions. One man told Senter he saves up sleep all year for this event.
“They’ve been playing all day long. Then they go out to this fabulous concert featuring professional artists,” Senter said. “And then they start jamming afterward at 11:30 at night and go until 3 in the morning.”
Which begs the question: What’s so great about the mandolin that causes players to forego sleep and strum until their fingers bleed? Why do these workshops and concerts sell out every year? (Senter advised potential concert attendees to order tickets ahead of time.)
Burke, a CCMS faculty member, has spearheaded the event since its beginning in 2002. It started modestly, held over one day with a couple teachers. 
“I think we were one of the earlier ones doing a weekend-long participatory festival,” Burke said via phone.
The third year required more instructors, and today, it could benefit from even more. Senter said she’d be open to expanding the event, but Burke likes its intimacy. 
Burke began playing the mandolin in college while living in a house with two other musicians. Because they all played the same instrument — the guitar — they collectively decided they’d each learn another to make jam sessions more interesting. The mandolin, Burke discovered, complemented the guitar well and had a folksy feel. It was also pretty easy to catch on to.
“The technique of playing the guitar and mandolin are somewhat similar, and it made for an easy transition. And I just love the sound of it,” Burke said. “It has this kind of a rootsy sound.”

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