Monday, November 2, 2009

Aurora Mandolin Orchestra at the San Francisco Public Library

Marco de Natale's Green Street Barbershop. "Papa" Gianni Giotta, singing. Nick Sfarzo, guitar. Unknown violinist and accordionist. 1968 (From Mandolins, Like Salami).

The Aurora Mandolin Orchestra will be returning for another performance in the Koret Auditorium, on November 7th, 2009. Some of the songs they may play from their repertoire include "La Cumparsita," "Vienna, City of My Dreams," and medleys from La Traviata and South Pacific, among many others.

As noted in Sheri Mignano Crawford's history of mandolin music in the Bay Area, Mandolins like Salami, the tradition of Italian mandolin music grew in part out of the “musical hub” of the barbershops. Between haircuts there was enough time for barbers to sing and play mandolin. Customers and anyone who was interested could join the music making at any time. For expediency the instruments were actually kept in barbershops – hanging like salami from the ceiling.

In North Beach, a center of this scene, the Green Street Barbershop continued this tradition into the 1970s. When the owner of that shop, Marco de Natale died, the center of the scene changed but the vibrancy continued to grow. The author mentions the Aurora Mandolin Orchestra as one of the groups that enjoyed this renaissance. Gino Pellegrini had played with Aurora in the 1930s, and had also played in other bands up to 1970. When he retired that year he resurrected the Orchestra.

His style of playing called “duo” mandolin was particularly difficult. Musicians using this style, pick the melody while also playing the accompaniment. When he died in 2006, his wife, Jo took on the role of Director and Conductor. The Aurora Mandolin Orchestra continues to flourish, playing a lively mixture of classical, traditional and contemporary pieces. Among the larger venues they’ve played are Davies Hall, the Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park, Santa Clara University, and the annual San Francisco Mandolin Festival.

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