The Moonlight Mandolin Orchestra started life in around 2002 as a group of three or four pupils, who attended a mandolin evening class run by Hugh Boyde for Cambridgeshire Music.
There was an upsurge of interest in the mandolin at the time, partly as the result of the success of the novel “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres. Gradually a solid core of keen and committed players emerged, and in 2004 we decided to stop being a teaching group and focus on rehearsing for performances instead.
Numbers grew – at the first official Moonlight Mandolins rehearsal there were six players (all mandolins), by the second session it was nine (including two guitarists). Since then there have been many comings and goings, but overall numbers have grown and we currently have around 20 players at any one time.
Our first concerts were very local affairs, with small audiences consisting overwhelmingly of partners and family of the players. Gradually our confidence (and our audience) grew. We planned larger concerts in conjunction with other local music groups, and started to involve guest soloists.
At this time we were also lucky enough to have the UK’s number one classical mandolin player, Alison Stephens living nearby. She gave us – collectively and individually – a great deal of help and encouragement, and contributed a number of arrangements to our repertoire. Many of the Moonlights used to travel over to St Neots for lessons with Ali.
The group started to travel more too. We have competed at several national festivals run by the BMG – making new friends, getting new ideas for repertoire, and bringing home a certain amount of silverware – and members of the MMO have been stalwarts in larger regional ensembles such as the London Mandolin Orchestra and the British National Fretted Orchestra.
At the same time we set up the Cambridge Mandolin and Guitar Association. This put the group on a more formal footing, and enabled us to better use the talents of various members as a Committee to organise things.
As the group grew, so did the role of Musical Director, and Hugh stood down in 2010 due to general pressure of work. The role was taken over by Anna Langley, who directed the group between 2010 and 2018. Anna started to conduct the group, rather than be a player-leader. This helped the MMO to spread its wings musically, and enabled us to tackler larger-scale works requiring more subtle dynamics and tempo control.
Anna also had the wisdom to set up a Repertoire Committee so that the group’s musical life would not be steered by just one person.
Here is a sound sampler taken from concerts given by the group up to around 2017.
Anna in turn felt the pressure of work in Spring of 2018, and Hugh took the musical reins again.
At that time our priority was to increase the size of the group, and we had almost achieved our target of 25 regular players when … COVID struck in early 2020! Like so many music groups, we moved online and kept ourselves going with Zoom rehearsals throughout the lockdowns. Bizarre as these occasions were, they helped to keep us all sane and motivated, and we go into Autumn 2021 with good numbers and a talented orchestra. Fingers crossed that the coming year will be easier than the last two!