Nicola Swinburne’s Biography

The story from San Francisco to Milan to York
Nicola Swinburne moved to York in July 2015 from the San Francisco Bay Area after spending a wonderful year and a half in Milan, Italy. She is originally British, and born in Yorkshire. She would like to bring to York some of the lovely music that she has enjoyed over the past 25 years and to spread the knowledge of the instrument and the techniques used.

She founded her own school, called Mandolin Serenade in San Francisco in 2004 and through it taught over 100 students to play Classical and Italian mandolin.

By gathering her students together, in 2005 she began what became the San Francisco Mandolin Orchestra. The orchestra then grew through the addition of other instruments (mandola, mandocello, guitar, double bass, harp, and occasional percussion and bass viol) and with the help of other musicians in the community. In 2009 she handed the musical direction of the orchestra to Achille Bocus, then the conductor of the Orchestra a Plettro, Città di Milano and she played in the orchestra. In 2014 she left the San Francisco Bay Area for Milan and joined two orchestras, the Orchestra a Plettro (conductor Augusto Scibilia) and Amici del Mandolino (conductor Vittorio Naldi).

Nicola first began to play the mandolin in 1991 in San Francisco when she was 28 years old (although she had studied violin as a child) and her earliest teachers belonged to folk rather than classical traditions. Her first mandolin inspiration came from the mandolin orchestras founded by older Italian and German immigrants. Later she sought out visiting professional mandolinists and travelled to Italy to study. The strongest influences on her style have been Dorina Frati (Brescia, Italy), Gertrud Weyhofen Tröster (Germany), and in later years Carlo Aonzo (Savona, Italy) and Achille Bocus together with the mandolinists of the Orchestra a Plettro in Milan. At the core of her teaching materials are the historical method books of Branzoli, Munier and Ranieri, as well as some traditional violin teaching material.

Her students and teaching style
Her students have been as varied as you can imagine. Some have been as young as 7 and others as old as 75. Some have had music degrees and others no formal education or musical training. What they all have had in common is a will to learn and an enthusiasm for the sound and the music. Her teaching style stresses the importance of good technique to get a pure, sustained tone, playing both strings, being able to express rhythm, phrasing, and mood, and building an ability to play fast and accurately without getting tendonitis. All her students learn to read standard notation and have a grasp of basic music theory. With a solid grounding in basic technique students have been able to pursue diverse types of music including American folk, bluegrass, “old time,” jazz, and Brazilian Choro. Most joined the orchestra which, although it had a strong Romantic Italian influence, played a variety of music from different time periods, much derived from the traditional (bowed string) orchestra repertoire, opera, together with arrangements from modern popular music.