1. What year did you join SDMO?
I joined the orchestra in 1977 at age 15. Before that, I sat in on many rehearsals with my parents at Patrick Henry High.
2. Why? In the 1970’s, several of my family members were in the San Diego Mandolin Orchestra. It was a very fun time where we all came together and enjoyed each other and our musical friends.
My mother, Rachel Willis, taught me to read notes on the mandolin around age 15 and told me that when I sit in with the orchestra, just watch for the whole notes and play the ones I know. That sounded almost impossible, but mothers know best, and here I am! Soon, I was playing 1st mandolin right along with Mother and my sisters Anita Powell & Sandy Davis. Even Aunt Flora (mother’s sister) was in on the fun. A few years later, I also enjoyed octave mandolin alongside my daddy (Imel Willis) and my brother-in-law Joe Powell. Being in the low voice section, that put me near my growing-up buddy, brother Floyd Willis (cello), and how I loved to hear his cello ring out loud and clear and often kept me in the right place when we had similar parts. He and I hold such fond memories of all the people and all of the places that the mandolin journey has led us!
3. Why did you stay? I remember my mother’s words about the mandolin, “Never stop playing! It brings such joy to yourself and to others.” I love everything mandolin, every little ringing sound it makes, the deep voices, the high voices, from bluegrass to classical, from beginners to masters, but my absolute favorite is when we mandolinists, of all ages and walks of life, come together to make rich sounds that are bigger than ourselves. I have loved walking life with a mandolin in hand, from playing in church, to playing with the S. D. Mandolin Orchestra, to teaching mandolin, to acting director of the Mandolin Orchestra of Northwest Arkansas, to attending my first Classical Mandolin Society of America National Convention 2019. In the world of mandolins, there is music, adventure, family & friends, and I am here to stay!