Welcome! Login | Register

Subscribe Now: Free Daily EBlast


Marilynn Mair: Making Music from Rio to Rhode Island

Saturday, December 14, 2013


For more than three decades Marilynn Mair has played music across the globe, recorded over a dozen solo CDs, published two method books, written countless columns, and taught as a Professor of Music at Roger Williams University. A long-time resident of Providence, she has dedicated herself to establishing the mandolin as an instrument of importance, for her lifetime and the future. Mair now splits her life between Rio and Rhode Island.

A conversation with Marilynn Mair

SW: How did your career begin and where?

MM: There are so many points that could be labeled the start of my career as a mandolinist. When I first put pick to string, studying with the late Hibbard Perry at his studio in Providence, when I wrote to all the classical mandolinists whose LPs I loved and some wrote back and I went to Europe to study with them. Perhaps when Robert J. Lurtsema called to ask me to play on his nationally-broadcast show “Morning Pro Musica” on WGBH. Maybe when I made my first recording, or got my first review, or sat in the office of the beloved ProJo music critic Edwin Safford telling him my plans and he believed me. You become a musician if that’s how it makes sense for you to enter the world. You choose an instrument because its beauty touches your heart. So I guess that really my career began when I realized in my heart that I wanted to play mandolin more than just about anything else in the world.

SW: What led you to your current career path?

MM: It’s really my strong emotional connection to music led to both my careers, as a performer and as a Professor of Music at Roger Williams University. Performing is my great joy, and the fact that people want to spend time listening to me play music I love on the mandolin is a privilege that I work very hard to deserve. For teaching, it’s my desire to share what I hear, what I love about music, what I have discovered about musical style and structure. Music is an art form that you have to be able to hold in your mind to examine; it’s not like a painting or a novel, it doesn’t wait to be looked at. I love figuring out how to get my students to listen in 3-D, to open a door to a new concept and see the “ah hah!” moment when they suddenly get it and walk through.

SW: When did your passion for music and particularly the mandolin become a driving force in your life?

MM: Hmmm... good question. I had played music since I was a child, piano, violin, folk guitar, and loved it but never thought I’d be a professional musician. I was a poet actually, as many young people are, but poetry is a solitary endeavor, and somewhere along the way I began to enjoy the collaborative nature of music, the fact that people quite different from each other could come together and create something amazing. But I think it was when I went to Austria to study with Vincenz Hladky that something clicked. I just recently came across a picture of myself in my early 20s sitting next to Hladky; he’s pointing to something in the music and I’m breaking into a big smile of delight. His intensity about music was contagious and the time he spent to share this world with me made me want to be worthy of his effort.

SW: You have dedicated yourself to establishing the mandolin as an instrument of importance. What accomplishments are you the most p roud of and what are you working on now?

MM: Although I love all my CD-- they are each an artistic gesture, a portrait of who I was musically at a certain point in my career-- I’m probably most proud of my method book, The Complete Mandolinist - A Comprehensive Method, published by Mel Bay in 2007. It’s 224 pages with a CD of example exercises, and took me a few years to write. The mandolin has a habit of fading in and out of popularity, going back to the Renaissance. And when it fades people forget how to play, forget how amazing the players of the past were. There hadn’t been a comprehensive mandolin method book published anywhere in the world in nearly a century, and two of my teachers-- Hibbard Perry and Vincenz Hladky-- died before they could do more than begin their planned books. So my method is their’s as well. And so many people have told me it has helped them as students, as teachers. If you love something I believe it is important to be of use, as well as enjoying yourself.

SW: What was it about the music of Brazil that drew you to create a second life in Rio?

MM: When I first heard Brazilian Choro music I was immediately head over heels. It had the complexity of classical music mixed with the syncopation and indefinable coolness of Rio de Janeiro. It was hard to find printed music or recordings in the early days, or much information on performance practice. I started to play and research the style and at some point realized that I had to spend some time in Rio to really get it. So I went there for almost 4 months in 2007, on my sabbatical break from teaching. I studied with the legendary Joel Nascimento-- weekly 6-hour lesson, and at the Saturday Choro School, played in rodas-- the traditional jam sessions-- and eventually became part of a band, Agua no Feijao. When my time was up and I left for home I remember thinking, so I’m returning to my “real” life, but what the heck was this? I bought a return ticket a couple of months later and since then try to go to Rio for a month or so at a time a couple of times a year. I’m there now, writing this after playing the opening concert in the Momento Rio Bandolim festival.

SW: Can you describe one great day in the life of Marilynn Mair?

MM: Wow, so many possibilities. It would definitely involve a gathering of friends, family if I was lucky, although my children are grown and live quite far away now. Music would be played, there would be laughter and hugs, good food and sunshine, and a moment when something happens that is so unexpectedly delightful that you think you will just burst open. It could be in RI or Rio, the cast would be different but the joy would be the same.

SW: What is the something that few p eo p le know about you?

MM: When I saw this question I was debating two funny possibilities, so I think I’ll just put them both down. One, I wrote and recorded a song in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Tootsie Roll. Two, I played accordion, as well as mandolin and mandola, on a recording of Chicago bluesman Eddie, “The Chief” Clearwater, produced by Duke Robillard.

SW: Who has been your greatest influence?

MM: The musicians in my life, players and teachers who have taken the time and done the work to reach the heart of the music, and, whether for a moment or a for a lifetime, have taken me there with them, sharing their bliss with me and pushing me to be better than I thought I could possibly be.

SW: What would you like most to communicate to young men and women establishing a career in music?

MM: Music chooses you, there’s no ignoring it when it does. If music is how you enter the world you have an obligation to learn as much as you can, be as good and original as you can, to experiment, to step outside your comfort zone every once in awhile and look around to see what else is there. Play for people whenever you can and ask them what they really think, tell them you truly want to know, for you will learn so much from feed-back beyond praise. Worry more about your chops than your headshots. Spend the time, do the work, because nothing will ever make you happier.

SW: Any special plans for the future?

MM: I am writing a lot of music lately, hybrid pieces that combine my classical, Brazilian, and American influences with an original perspective. I’ve got a new CD in the works. And right now I’m on sabbatical in Rio so I have plans to play as much music as possible before I go home, to help get me through the cold New England winter.

Susan Wagner is the president of Susan Wagner PR . She writes a series of profiles for Go Local.


Related Slideshow: 30 Ways to Give This Holiday Season

Prev Next

RI Food Bank

The need for food assistance in Rhode Island remains at record high levels. Every month, the Food Bank's network of food pantries and meal sites is serving more than 68,000 people. One in three served is a child under the age of 18. This holiday season, the Food Bank is looking to collect 350,000 pounds of food between November 1 and December 31. Here’s how you can help the Food Bank achieve this goal:

  • Drop off donations of non-perishable food any weekday (excluding holidays) between 8 am and 5 pm at the Food Bank, 200 Niantic Avenue, Providence.
  • Organize your own food drive in your neighborhood, school, business or organization. We can provide posters and collection bins. For helpful tips, click here.
  • Make a financial donation to our Holiday Meal Drive by clicking here. Every dollar you gives enables us to acquire three pounds of healthy food for a family in need.
  • Visit the Food Bank's Kids' Page and learn more about how young people can make a difference.
  • Attend our Holiday Meal Drive Open House on Saturday, Dec. 7.


Click here for more details about the Holiday Meal Drive.

Prev Next

Crossroads RI

The largest homeless services organization in Rhode Island, Crossroads has become much more than a place for the homeless to sleep. Crossroads currently offers various programs to help individuals and families tackle both immediate and long-term needs.

With that in mind, Crossroads is looking to help those in need this holiday season by encourage donor to contribute to its 2013 Holiday Gift Catalog. By donating to Crossroads, you can ensure that the state’s homeless population has the holiday that they deserve.

Click here to make a donation.

Prev Next

Operation Homefront

Formed in 2002, Operation Homefront is a nonprofit organization developed to support military families. On December 15, Operation Homefront will host a “Holiday Toys for Military Kids” event in Warwick from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Toys are limited and are on a first come, first serve registration process. Once your registration is complete you will receive a confirmation email. Please note that this program is for military dependent children only.

Click here for more details.

Prev Next

Coats for Kids

From now until January 11, you can donate your gently-used winter coat in order to help keep a child warm this winter. Over the past 18 years, the Coats for Kids program has collected more than 800,000 adult and children’s coats—all of which have been cleaned at no charge by Anton’s Cleaners.

“The goal of Coats for Kids is to make certain that the strong demand for warm coats is matched by the even stronger generosity of our neighbors throughout the region,” says Charles A. Anton, CEO of Anton’s Cleaners.

Those looking to make a donation can visit Jordan’s Furniture in Warwick. Click here for more information.

Prev Next

Toys for Tots

Beginning in October, the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program collects new, unwrapped toys each year, and distributes those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted. If you wish to donate a toy simply drop it off at the Reserve Training Center, 1 Narragansett Street in Providence. Donations must be made prior to December 12.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

Spirit of Giving Holiday

Each year, Children’s Friend “Spirit of Giving Holiday Drive” provides clothing and toys to make the winter holidays a special time for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable families. With your help, Children’s Friend hopes to help 1,200 of Rhode Island’s families this holiday season, the biggest goal ever. To participate, please visit holidaydrive@cfsri.org, call the Spirit of Giving Holiday line at 401-276-4346, or email: holidaydrive@cfsri.org.

This year’s drive is in memory of Joseph Silva, who was a dedicated Holiday Drive organizer and volunteer.

Prev Next

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army’s traditional red kettle is an integral part of the Christmas scene, with millions of dollars donated each year to aid needy families, seniors, and the homeless. Donations provide and financial assistance provides Christmas dinners, clothing, and toys for families in need including families of prisoners. Simply make a donation wherever you see their trademark red kettle or do so online by clicking here.

Prev Next

Operation Holiday Cheer

Show a Rhode Island resident serving overseas in the U.S. Military that you care by donating to the Rhode Island Red Cross’ Operation Holiday Cheer fund. You can support the project by making a donation to cover the costs of sending care packages to members of the military by clicking here. Under "Multiply Your Impact," type OPERATION HOLIDAY CHEER in the blank box under "In Honor Of."

Prev Next

Hasbro Hospital

Would you like to help a child in need this holiday season? Consider making a donation to the Child Life Holiday Fund at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Hasbro uses these donations to provide gifts and activities for patients during the holiday season. To donate online, be sure type in "Child Life Holiday Fund" in the "Comments" section when making a donation on their online form.

Prev Next

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Help a child this holiday by making a contribution to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State's Donation Center. Simply donate gently used clothing and small household items to generate revenue to support the program’s mentoring programs for children facing adversity.

Click here for more information and to find your closest donation center.

Prev Next

Family Service of RI

Family Service of RI (and its AIDS Project RI division) gratefully accepts donations of gift cards for food, clothing and other material to help needy clients all year round, and the holiday season is no exception. If you're interested in making an in-kind donation, please email

hugst@familyserviceri.org or call 401-519-2274.

Prev Next

Miriam Hospital

Donating money to help those in need never tasted so good. From now through December you can head over to Miriam Hospital in Providence to purchase a deluxe gingerbread man or woman kit courtesy of Gracie's restaurant and Elle's Bakery. Gingerbread kits are $8 and all the proceeds will go to benefiting families in need. Click here for more information. 

Prev Next

Amos House

Donations to Amos House provide direct services to the hungry, homeless, unemployed and uninsured. Here's what your donation can do this holiday season:

  • $75 provides prescription assistance for a person with a medical need
  • $100 provides meals for 50 hungry men, women and children
  • $200 buys 10 nights of safe, supportive housing for a homeless person
  • $1,000 equals a month of support for a homeless mother and her children
  • $4,000 enables job training that leads to employment and national certification for an adult seeking to increase her skill level and overcome a cycle of poverty and unemployment


Click here if you wish to make a donation.

Prev Next

RIPTA Toy Drive

On Friday, December 6th bring a new unwrapped toy to the Providence Bruins Game at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The game begins at 7pm and RIPTA will start collecting toys at 3PM. There will be a large bin in the lobby that needs your help. RIPTA's goal is to fill a bus full of toys.

Attendees can meet the Providence Bruins mascot Samboni and the WBRU Crew. You can also enter to win t-shirts, tickets to see Kings of Leon, and win a VIP P Bruins experience. The first 100 people get a free lunch card from the Public Kitchen & Bar.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

Hyundai Toy Drive

Help local children in need by dropping off toy donations at Pride Hyundai of Seekonk (11 Taunton Ave. in Seekonk) any time up until December 14, 2013. All donations will be delivered to Toys for TotsLite Rock 105 and 92 PRO FM will be on hand to celebrate the festivities offering donors the chance to win a variety of prizes including concert tickets. 

Prev Next


Goodwill Rhode Island accepts donations of men's, women's or children's clothing and other textiles.  Some of the clothing donations are provided to our clients who may need an outfit for an interview or a one week supply of clothing for a new job. Most is sold to neighboring Goodwill’s, or as salvage with all revenues raised going back into programs and services for Rhode islanders.

You may drop off your old clothing at one of our many clothing donation bins throughout the state or at the drop-box located in front of our building located at 100 Houghton Street, Providence, RI.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

Dam Good Toy Drive

Would you like to make a child’s day by giving them a new toy, as well as laugh a little? Well you’re in luck because the Comedy Connection is hosting the third annual Dam Good Toy Drive on Thursday, December 5 at 8 p.m. The event features comedians Bad Lad, Cory Guglietti, Sam Jay and Mike Murray. Admission is free if you bring a toy. Tickets are $10 without a toy donation. This is an 18+ show.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

EG Toy Drive

On Saturday, December 7th the Plenty of Singles Dance Party group will host a toy drive at the American Legion Post 15 in East Greenwich. The event will feature face painting, karaoke, pictures with Santa, arts and crafts, and balloon creations.  Additionally, the group will be collecting new toys for Toys for Tots. The children event runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

United Way of RI

In the spirit of the season, the United Way of Rhode Island’s Women’s Leadership Council and Young Leaders Circle have teamed up with United Way funded agency, Connecting for Children and Families (CCF) in Woonsocket. Each year, CCF hosts a holiday party for children in their programs and their families. For many of these families, it is their only holiday celebration.

The party will be held on Wednesday, December 11 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Kevin K. Coleman Elementary School.

The YLC will be collecting new winter accessories as gifts for the children at the event. Items include: hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, socks, boots, and shoes. Click here to download the flyer.

Photo: Flickr/paparutzi

Prev Next

Gateway Healthcare

As part of the Light of Hope campaign each year, Gateway Healthcare of Rhode Island collects new and unwrapped items to provide their clients with holiday celebrations.

Gateway Healthcare is a non-profit behavioral health care organization that provides a wide array of services to adults, children and families in the Ocean State.

Click here to read Gateway’s full holiday wish list.

Photo: Flickr/BenSpark

Prev Next

Foster Forward

Foster Forward, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children, young adults, and families whose lives have been impacted by foster care, is currently hosting the “DCYF Holiday Gifts for Teens.” As part of the event, Group homes and foster parents contact Foster Forward to be matched with a sponsor. Once matched with a teen, sponsors are asked to spend about $75 for each child sponsored.

Click here to find out more information and to see how you can become involved.

Prev Next

Junior League of RI

Starting on November 29, 2013 at 6 a.m., The Junior League of Rhode Island, Inc. will launch its annual holiday auction; one of its major fundraisers of the year. There are many ways you can support this effort. You can contribute items, experiences or gift cards such as restaurant, store, or generics for bidding. you can donate money and Junior League will do the shopping for you.

Click here for more information.

Photo: Flickr/Aine D

Prev Next

ACOS Toy Drive

Help make this holiday season brighter for the children of Aids Care Ocean State by participating in Michael Slade’s Birthday Toy Drive. Just bring an unwrapped toy or Target Gift card to The Stable, 125 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903 on December 8th 2013 between 12 PM - 8 PM. Your donated toys, clothing and books will be delivered to ACOS families and their children for the holidays! Enjoy food, music and knowing you’re a part of a good cause.

Click here for more information.

Photo: Flickr/alliecreative

Prev Next

Dark Lady Toy Drive

The Dark Lady, The Alley Cat and AIDS Care Ocean State will present its 11th Annual Toy Drive on Sunday, December 15 from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Dark Lady in Providence. Attendees are asked to bring an unwrapped toy of Target gift card for children of ACOS.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

North Prov. Rotary Club

The Rotary Club of North Providence is collecting wrapped or unwrapped toys for the North Providence Police Department Toy Drive till December 10th. Donations of new toys can be dropped off at Sicilias Restaurant starting after 6pm November 26th until December 10th. Donations may also be dropped off at the North Providence Police Station.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

School Cmte. Toy Drive

North Providence School Committee members, Steven Andreozzi and Stephen Palmieri, are currently running a toy drive to benefit children of District 3, which they represent. The board members are looking for new unwrapped toys for children ages 5-12. Toys can be dropped off at D. Palmieri's Bakery in Johnston, or at the upcoming toy drive event planned for Dec. 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Lymansville VFW Post.

For more information, call Joanne Andreozzi at 401-231-3069 or email smandreozzi@gmail.com. Palmieri can be reached at 401-378-4787 or by email at spalmierinorthprovschools.org.

Photo: Flickr/Lars Plougmann

Prev Next

Jonnycake Center

The Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale has begun collecting food and other items for its annual holiday program. All holiday programs are being run by members of Teen Jonnycake, our youth volunteer service program.

Donations needed: Gravy mix, stuffing, cranberry sauce, canned vegetables, canned yams, canned pineapple, quick bread mix, pie crust mix, evaporated milk, canned pumpkin, and canned pie filling.

Click here for more information.

Prev Next

NK Holiday Giving Program

The town of North Kingstown’s Holiday Giving Program focuses on providing gifts for children in families experiencing hardship and is unable to provide the gifts themselves. Families must meet certain eligibility guidelines and an in-person interview is required.

As part of the program, individuals, families and local businesses anonymously “adopt” families in need. Donors will receive only age and gender appropriate “wish lists” from the adopted families.

For more information call 401- 268-1579 or click here.

Prev Next


The Rhode Island Center Assisting Those in Need, who provides food for the hungry, will offer nutritious holiday meals as well as Santa’s Workshop this holiday season.

In 2012, RI CAN distributed 17,901 bags of food and 4,264 bags of personal supplies to 883 households with 5,905 visits to our emergency food pantry alone–which equates to serving a total of 20,273 people annually.

For more information call (401) 364-9412 or click here.

Prev Next

Cardi's Furniture

The 2013 US Marines Toys for Tots Drive is going on now through December 23 at All Cardi's Furniture locations. Bring in a new, unwrapped gift to any Cardi's Furniture and they will get it to the Marines and other local agencies for immediate distriubution to children in the Rhode Island area.

Click here for more information.


Related Articles


Enjoy this post? Share it with others.



Stay Connected — Free
Daily Email