In the 2000 runaway hit, O Brother Where Art Thou?, the mandolin plays as central a role as George Clooney's quirky and musical hobo; the instrument's plucky yet mellifluous sound adding a distinctive hook to the soundtrack. Although relatively obscure 15 years ago, the mandolin was hugely popular during the 1930s Depression Era.
Over the subsequent decades, however, the mandolin has drifted from the limelight, in favor of more popular stringed instruments like the banjo and guitar. But with the help of the Cohen Brothers' movies' popularity and a few key players sprinkled from jam bands to punk outfits, the mandolin is quickly regaining its popularity—and this week is an ideal time to learn how to play as one of the instrument's best players swings through town to offer lessons.
The mandolin is a peculiar stringed instrument. "It has tonal qualities that always turns heads," says Joe Schulte, owner and founder of Bend's String Theory Music.
Schulte also explains that because of its relative small size, the mandolin is often mistaken for a ukulele. But, among other differences, that instrument comes from Hawaii, while the mandolin first originated in Italy—and carries many European qualities.
With a pear-shaped wooden body and a fretted neck, "it is tuned like a violin but played like a guitar," explains Schulte. He adds that despite the "mysterious yet key role it has in popular music, the mandolin is a very approachable instrument, even to complete beginner musicians."
And on Thursday, String Theory Music offers a rare workshop on the mandolin; the workshop is led by legendary player Don Julin, who will follow the lesson with a performance with Billy Strings.
Over the past 30 years, Julin has performed his original compositions and traditional tunes with greats Mike Marshall and David Grisman. But Julin has also focused heavily on instruction, and wrote the popular Mandolin for Dummies. He even offers lessons over Skype.
"He uses his 30-plus years of experience as a professional musician to help his students avoid common mistakes that can hinder our ability to be all we can be as mandolinists," explains Schulte.
Julin is arriving in Bend straight from Washington's Wintergrass music festival, and in keeping with the theme of an instrument that is describe as friendly, Julin is open to working with any skill level. A group lesson will be taught, 3-5 pm, Thursday, March 5, followed by a performance.
Limited seating, $40. Call for a reservation, 541-678-0257
Billy Strings & Don Julin
String Theory Music, 1291 NW Wall
7 pm. Thursday, March 5
Workshop $40, performance $20.