American composer, mandolinist, professor, writer, and poet

Concert performer, recording artist, professor of music, mother of two musically talented kids, director of America’s pre-eminent summer school for mandolin and guitar — any one or two of these can be a full-time job, but Marilynn manages to do them all. MORE  [MANDOZINE]

However untrained my ear may be, I immediately appreciated that there was something exciting and fresh in the audios Marilynn Mair uploaded to her blog Celebrating a Year. The reason for the freshness was that it was Brazilian jazz, called choro, something with which I was not familiar. I think the first audio might have been Isso, which was written by Marilynn and performed by her and Luiz Simas on Meu Bandolim, their CD released 2010. [Sample] I was hooked. I sent the link around to all my music-loving family and friends.

Choro (pronounced SHOH-roh) is best described in American terms as “the New Orleans jazz of Brazil.” It is a complex popular musical form based on improvisation, and like New Orleans jazz, blues, or ragtime, grew from a formalized musical structure and many worldly influences. But to the people of South America, choro is Brazil. It is life. MORE  [Saint Paul Sunday]

As lutes go, I was most familiar with the oud of my Lebanese/Turkish background; but I also grew up among Brooklyn Italians and enjoyed their mandolino [The Serenade of Italy]. The European instruments have the oud as a common ancestor. Curious, I quieried Marilynn about choro and in response she gifted me with two of her seven CDs. That was my virgin venture into the delightful sounds of this distinctly Brazilian music. Now it’s an addiction.

Marilynn is professor of music at Roger Williams University at Bristol, Rhode Island. Each year, she travels to Brazil to continue research, study, and teaching. In fact, as I write this, she’s on her way to Rio to teach a class of mandolinists at the Universidade Federale and to write music. She always shares her adventures with us on Celebrating a Year, her blog.

The set of compositions that Marilyn is currently writing is a series of hybrid choro in which Marilynn uses themes from classical music and jazz to creat Brazilian music. She finished three: Um Quinto do Ludwig, a bossa nova based on the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony; Farrapo (Rag) based on Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer, and Sonatinha based on Beethoven’s Sonatina in C for Mandoline. These trips may be a change of scenery for Marilynn, but they’re not a break from the work she loves. She’ll be hard at it on the next three compositions, one of which is to be based on Piazzola’s Milonga do Angel.

Next on her agenda is SummerKeys, a music camp providing students of mandolin and guitar with a week private lessons, plucked-string ensambles, concerts, new friends and mentors. SummerKeys is at Lubec, Maine. (Info and registration for that is HERE should you be interested.)

Marilynn’s newest book, available on Amazon, is Brazilian Choro – A Method for Mandolin.  Her website [Maryilynn Mair Madolin] is a generous source of information on mandolin, choro, and Brazil including feature articles and her Brazil Log.

With all of her professional activities, it’s hard to believe that Marilynn also participated in the 2010 National Novel Writing Month (NaNo). She did this in solidarity with her equally talented brother – engineer and author – Ian Mair (Death in Mexico). Marilynn completed her 50,000 word commitment entirely in poem, writing to Edward Hopper paintings in décima joining the décima with free-verse as a narrative with the décima as soliloquies. This is much like Cuban musical décima, which were often interspersed with instrumental improvisation.  I asked her why décima:

It was originally a Spanish poetry form first published in 1591. I was drawn to it because in the migration to the Americas the form survived and flourished as an improvisational song form. It has such a strict form and that’s surprising. No one improvises sonnets. As a song form, particularly in Cuba, it added four-line intros or outros, and improvised instrumental interludes between décimas. That worked for my manuscript because I could use the four-line piece to introduce or explain a décima’s connection to the plot line. And the interludes became free verse connectors dealing more specifically with the protagonist’s changing state of mind and emotions. But this all really developed in the process of writing all month.

I started writing décima earlier this year because I was intrigued by the form, and since no one seems to be writing them in English, or ever has, it seemed more “my” form to explore. I liked what I was coming up with so decided to go with that for NaNo rather than the more obvious villanelle or an iambic pentameter ballad.

Marilynn’s poetry is featured on her blog [Celebrating a Year] each Wednesday, where you can also catch up with her daily musings and photography. Marilynn is  a contributing writer here at Into the Bardo. Her most recent contribution is Shred the Social Safety Nets.

By way of close, here’s Marilyn playing mandolin at a recording studio in Brazil with Grupo Água no Feijão Tocando Assanhado. They are recording the CD Meu Bandolim.  Enjoy!

Marilynn Mair, mandolin, bandolim
Solo & Duo, Enigmatica, Água No Feijão
Author, The Complete Mandolinist- A Comprehensive Method
Co-author, Brazilian Choro – A Method for Mandolin
Director, The American Mandolin & Guitar Suitcase Seminars

“I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers
Of April, May, of June, and July flowers.” – Robert Herrick

– Jamie Dedes·

© 2012, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

Photo credit ~ portrait by Romulo Aguiar (musician) and © 2012 Marilynn Mair

Video #1 uploaded to YouTube by thefeedRWU.

Video #2 uploaded to YouTube by . Link to HERE for a recent article about Marilynn by Jim McGraw.


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