Beth Dearinger didn’t know how to play mandolin. But when she heard several of the unique instruments playing tremolo together, she was entranced.
“I just thought it was really a unique sound,” she says, “and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
That was in 1973, and the group that hooked her was the Lawrence Mandolin and Guitar Ensemble founded by Jeff Dearinger. Now known as the Uptown Mandolin Quartet, the group is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a free public concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Lawrence Public Library, 700 New Hampshire St. (the library’s new, temporary location).
Beth did become part of the ensemble — she joined the group in its earliest years, took mandolin lessons from Jeff and the two later married. Along with Mike Stewart, of Lawrence, and Charles Higginson, of Lecompton, the Lawrence couple make up the current and long-running iteration of the Uptown Mandolin Quartet.
While mandolins in this region are often featured in bluegrass bands, the Uptown Mandolin Quartet sticks closer to the instrument’s European roots.
Beth Dearinger and Stewart play mandolins, Higginson plays the mandola, and Jeff Dearinger plays the mandocello. They play primarily classical music, including some Hispanic and modern, and some music with Irish roots.
Jeff Dearinger arranges the music, often after hearing a piece performed by other instruments and thinking, “I bet that will work for the mandolin,” he says.
“That’s been a source of pleasure for me, as well as just the feeling of camaraderie,” he says. “We’ve all played so long together we kind of know what the other person is going to be doing.”
The Lawrence Mandolin and Guitar Ensemble started with Dearinger on guitar and his then-roommate Ric Averill, a violin player, on an old, beat-up mandolin Dearinger loaned him. Inspired by a record they found of a mandolin-guitar ensemble from Vienna, Dearinger drafted some of his classical guitar students, a talented high school string bass student and a few more violinist friends from Kansas University, whom he equipped with additional cheap mandolins. At some point, they talked someone into buying a mandola to add more depth to the sound.
Eventually, many of the students moved away, and the group gradually shrank. But the players who remained continued to increase their skills and grow their repertoire.
Beth Dearinger says she, too, enjoys the smaller ensemble’s dynamic and still loves that tremolo — a key mandolin sound achieved by moving the pick back and forth very quickly across one or more strings.
“It’s a different sound than you get from other instruments,” she says. “It’s somewhat ethereal and magic.”