Skip to main content

Mando for Kids

Teaching classical mandolin to Baltimore's kids

Mandos for Kids 2010

Mando for Kids is a program conceived and dedicated to teaching classical mandolin to youngsters in Baltimore. 

The idea stemmed from a presentation at the 2009 convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America (CMSA) in Dayton, Ohio, of a similar program used in Germany.
By the end of 2009 BMO members Laura Norris and Joyce Adams – assisted by Kitty and Lorin Brown – had developed their goals for the program, borrowed some mandolins, and were ready to get going. 

Their immediate goal was to introduce children to the playing and hearing of the mandolin as a classical instrument.  In spring 2010 Laura and Joyce presented six progressive workshops to two groups of children ranging in age from six to ten.  First the kids learned to strum open string chords, and, with the aid of stories, they helped to describe, in sound, the characters or actions depicted in the stories.  Later their mandolins were tuned to GDAE and the kids learned fingering and picking out notes of tunes.  The kids are divided into three groups based on skill level – Nestlings, Hatchlings, and Fledglings.  All levels have appropriate workbooks and songbooks that were developed by Laura.

There are currently about nintey children in the Mando for Kids program!  Using grant money awarded by the Classical Mandolin Society of America, Laura and Joyce bought 24 inexpensive Romanian mandolins for the kids to use, and the BMO loaned them the money to buy 24 more.  They have recently received more donations to buy even more mandolins.

Check them out here:

And here on Facebook:

The kids gave their first concert performance in June 2010, playing lively renditions of tunes like “Oh, Susannah” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  A great start for a wonderful program!

After a little over a year of diligent work and practice, the kids put on a brief, but very well received pre-concert program before two big evening concerts at the 2011 CMSA convention here in Baltimore.  The first concert was held on October 14th in the Fitzgerald Ballroom of the Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel in Towson, and the second concert was on October 15th in front of a nearly packed house in the 1,000-seat Kraushaar Auditorium on the campus of Goucher College (see photos below).  The kids played old familiar tunes as the audience sang along.

Mandokids performing
Volskaya & Trofimov

Tamara Volskaya, the world-renowned domra virtuosa, and her husband, Anatoly Trofimov, who accompanies her on the bayan or Russian button accordion, were in town in November 2013 for some performances (including two with the BMO), and Laura Norris invited them to meet the MandoKids.  

Tamara & Laura
Tamara with Mando Kids

On November 18th, Tamara and Anatoly played for the MandoKids at Bertha's in Fells Point.  Tamara talked about the instruments and demonstrated her virtuosity on the domra and the mandolin.  Here Tamara and Laura are listening to one youngster as she plays her mandolin. 

The reaction of the MandoKids is testimony enough to how impressed they were with Tamara's playing.  Here's the way some of them described the performance:   "Exciting."  "Awesome."  "Magical."  "Amazing."  "Beautiful."  "Unbelievable."   "Inspiring."

On June 1, 2014, some of the MandoKids got the opportunity to play a couple of pieces with the entire Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra in concert for the first time.  The concert was at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, Maryland.  The kids played "The Flying Wedge," a galop by Kate Dolby, and "Partita Antiqua," a lovely classical piece in five short movements arranged by C. Noordzij.  The kids were thrilled to join the entire ochestra.  Their performance was a huge success and garnered sustained applause from an enthusiastic audience.

The advanced kids, known as the "Pioneers," played again with the entire Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra at a concert at Fallston United Methodist Church in Fallston, MD, on November 15, 2014 (photo below).  

Mando Kids Pioneers with BMO 15 Nov 2014

The Pioneers started coming regularly to BMO rehearsals in February and March 2016. Previously, Laura Norris had provided all their instruction.  Now they were under the direction of our conductor.  There were seven of them, ranging in age from 11-14.  They learned all the pieces the orchestra was playing.  This repertoire included Vivaldi's challenging "Concerto in G for Two Mandolins," which the orchestra would be playing the next month with guest artists Carlo Azono and Rene Izquierdo.  (A long way from "Oh, Susannah" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star!!")  The Pioneers came to a rehearsal with Carlo and Rene before the concert and Carlo was impressed with their progress.  Here's a photo of the Pioneers posing with Laura Norris and Carlo and Rene after the concert on April 24, 2016.

MandoKids with Carlo & Rene

On the day after this concert, Carlo played a recital for about fifty of the MandoKids.  At this recital, one of Laura's most advanced Pioneers, Abbie, played the Vivaldi concerto with Carlo.  Carlo was "blown away" by the talent and accomplishments of Abbie and the other Pioneers.  

The Pioneers had made remarkable progress and continued to come to rehearsals and play at concerts throughout the rest of the BMO's concert season in the spring of 2016.

The 2016 convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America (CMSA) was held in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, from November 2-6.  The culminating event of a CMSA convention is the Saturday night concert by the so-called En Masse Orchestra.  This orchestra is made up of all the convention attendees who wish to play.  There were about 150 players at the 2016 convention!  One of the MandoKids, the aforementioned Abbie, attended the entire convention on a CMSA scholarship and played first mandolin in the En Masse Orchestra.  Laura Norris invited all of her Pioneers to come to Valley Forge and show off their stuff on the day of the En Masse Orchestra concert.  The Pioneers played for 45 minutes by the door to the hotel's grand ballroom just before the concert began (photo below).

Pioneers at CMSA 2016

November 5, 2016.  In this photo, the Pioneers are playing the Vivaldi concerto again with Tony Norris accompanying on the guitar.  The concertgoers and CMSA attendees who stopped by to watch were deeply impressed with the performance.

It so happened that the first piece on the En Masse Orchestra concert program that evening was "Benvenuto" by Johann B. Kok.  The BMO had been playing that piece and the Pioneers were very familiar with it, so Laura arranged for them to sit in with entire En Masse Orchestra to play that first piece.  Quite a thrill!

Laura Norris reported that in September 2017 three of her advanced "Pioneers" are now teaching the younger ones in Baltimore's Mando for Kids program.  Those Kids are amazing!