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The Fifth Course

Weekend Workshop with Simon Mayor

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
The first thing all my fellow Americans need to know is that Simon Mayor is a monster player. Tone and technique for days. He's not a Bluegrass guy, and that may be why he gets fairly little attention from mandolin communities dominated by the good people of the Americas. If you need a genre or category to wrap your mind around, then think of him as cut from the same mold (or mould as they spell it here) as Mike Marshall. He's an excellent all-rounder, plays fluidly through pretty much anything from classical to jazz, and gets sweet tones from his Vanden A style mandolins.

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Mayor is also an excellent instructor. He had 35 students for the weekend, including me. A rather alarming array of people with different skill levels from different backgrounds and with different goals. Because of that he fairly loaded us down with material to play, but amazingly we marched through the vast majority of it.

I'm not an excellent sight reader, even in tab. So I struggled a bit to play tunes I have never heard before. I relied upon my ears a great deal and for the most part I was grasping the piece by the time we all moved on to something else. Loads of folks just flew through the music, having more experience sight reading than I do.

Lest you think all we did was play sheet music... Mayor covered a great deal of technique, from right and left hand for beginners to creating drone notes by holding the pinky down on a string at a certain fret. The pieces he chose for the weekend aided our adoption of the techniques he taught.

Theory was also covered, but not in great detail. Simon shared enough in that domain to clue people in about how to have an idea about the structure of a song if you've never heard it before. I think it helped a lot of people understand the structure of most types of popular music.

We had a really nice mix of classical players and players from the folk traditions. I got to know a pair of couples who regularly play in the Devon Mandolin Orchestra. It was a treat to hear a Liuto Cantabile played well.

The venue was a former manor house near Taunton in County Somerset, England. Halsway Manor (pronounced hallzee) is beautiful house with a grand plan for supporting folk arts in the area. The staff were friendly, the rooms were comfortable, and the food was excellent.

We had a crackling fire in the entrance hall every day. Both morning and afternoon tea and coffee were served as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had ample time to socialise, nibble on biscuits (cookies), and drink a very welcome cup of something warm and soothing.

I happen to know there was at least one other Mandolin Cafe member present, so I'll just give a shout to Jeremy: It was good to meet you, and I hope to see you at Rochester Sweeps in May or in Wivenhoe in July.

If it happens again next year, I'm going. All in all the weekend was as wonderful as the The Mandolin Symposium. Even if it was 5 days shorter.

From almost wintry Cambridge,

PS: Simon Mayor's website...

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Updated Jan-22-2015 at 10:46am by Daniel Nestlerode

Acoustic Adventures


  1. Gelsenbury's Avatar
    Thank you so much, I've been looking forward to this all week. It sounds like a - naturally more detailed and extensive - development of the one-day format that I was lucky enough to experience in Lewes a year or two ago. 35 students is a great turnout. Did you have a chance to talk to Simon individually?

    If there is to be a repeat of this workshop, I'll do my best to attend too. I want to have a good look at Simon Mayor's hands when he plays those slides ... they sound so clear and delicate, nobody else plays them like that.
  2. Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
    I did indeed get a chance to chat with Simon. We shared a libation or two, as he did with anyone willing. Plus he made himself available for individual questions and/or technique help.

    I should think there will be one next year. So mark your calendar and keep and eye on the Halsway Manor website.

    It would be difficult to write how Simon gets those slides, it's about technique aided by a well set-up instrument. But if you come to Rochester for the Sweeps, I'll be happy to show you!
  3. JeffD's Avatar
    Great opportunity. I have been a fan of Simon Mayor since the Mandolin Moods album, some umpty ump years ago. Great player, great musician.