About three years ago, I began to rediscover Bluegrass music. I got really into Alison Krauss & Union Station and Nickel Creek (not exactly purist Bluegrass bands, but I’d say that Bluegrass is their foundational genre). I decided I wanted to learn mandolin and fiddle.
I posted a jokey Facebook status update asking if anyone wanted to buy me a mandolin. Then, on my 22nd Birthday, my Grandfather said he would in fact like to buy me one! I was ecstatic, and set about Denmark Street in search of an entry-level mandolin that would be good enough to learn on and maybe good enough to record on the occasional song. I tried out a few different instruments that were within my budget, but none of them really stood out to me.
Let me backtrack a minute here. A few weeks earlier I’d gone to a shop in Denmark Street and admired a beautiful, 100-year-old guitar that had an amazing mother-of-pearl butterfly design on it. I had considered buying it, but instead spent my money on a MacBook Pro laptop. When I went back to the store in search of a mandolin, I asked if they still had the guitar. The shop-assistant informed me that the guitar had been sold, but that they actually had a mandolin in stock that had a similar vibe.
He brought out the mandolin and informed me that it was 100-years-old, and had belonged to a soldier who had fought in the war (not sure which one – probably WW2, unless he bought the instrument new!). It came with the original leather case, plus an old newspaper cutting which referenced the soldier who had owned it. It even had one really, really old string (maybe one of the original strings?) rolled up in the case. Inside the mandolin, it says, “Via Antonio”.
Now, anyone who has read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin might understand why I got excited by all this. I know that it’s a work of fiction, but it’s one of my favourite works of fiction, and the obvious parallels helped me to fall in love with this particular mandolin. (For those who haven’t read the book, Captain Corelli is a soldier in the second World War, whose first name is Antonio, and who plays a bowl-back mandolin named Antonia, which I seem to recall even has a mother-of-pearl butterfly on it. I have, of course, named my mandolin Antonio.)
When I played it, I loved it even more. It was a little over-budget, but other family members had also given me some money for my Birthday, which meant I was just able to afford it. It was very reasonably priced, considering what a beautiful instrument it is.
It’s been over a year since I bought it, and I’m sad to say that I haven’t put very much time into learning how to actually play it. But I plan on changing that – I’m going to give it the attention it deserves so that you can all hear how beautiful it is.
Do you have an instrument with a special story? I’d love to it in the comments section below!