This is the fourth of a nine part series about Diversity, Inclusive Programming, and Music Education. Many of the ideas and themes here build on past pieces of this series, so reading them is suggested (for series overview, visit this link. part one: Intro; part 2: Postcolonialism; part 3: Assimilation). As this piece follows up on ideas brought up in the previous three posts it’s suggested you read those first.

Part four focuses on the “Third Wave” of Immigration in the United States and how the music of these new ethnic groups assimilated into the broader USian culture or remained a relatively isolated cultural practice intracommunally. This piece will contrast with the Forced Assimilation in Indian Boarding Schools we saw with Native Americans in the previous post which happened concurrently with the Third Wave of Immigration.

Cleveland Junior Tamburitzans perform at the CFU annual Junior Tamburitzan Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana. July 5-7, 2019. Website:

Last July thousands of young Croatian American performers and families went to Indianapolis,1 Indiana to attend the 53rd Annual Junior Tamburitzan Festival of America sponsored by the Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU).2 The three day event had its inaugural event at the CFU Children’s Home3 in Des Plains, Illinois in 1966 and currently has performances by dozens of groups from all over the United States, Canada, and Croatia.

Many of these performing groups center around large communities of Croatian Americans which formed and grew during the Third Wave of Immigration to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920. Those decades saw the earliest Croatian performing groups and societies,4 though the earliest children music groups wouldn’t be formed until late 1920s.5 Though Eastern Europeans were one of the largest groups to immigrate to the U.S. during the Third Wave, Southern Europeans comprised another significant population to do so. This coincided with the rise of performing ensembles associated with those groups, namely the Mandolin Orchestra.6

Mandolin Orchestras and the Estudiantina Española Fígaro

In the late 1800s orchestras of bandurrias, violins, and guitars in Spain became a popular pastime for tuna (student performing group) at Universities.7 One of the most famous, the Estudiantina Española Fígaro, from Madrid would eventually tour Europe, and in 1880, the United States.8 The group was so well received and popular in the U.S. that several ensembles were formed to capitalize on that success. Most of these groups were comprised of Italian American musicians, one of the other immigrant group which came to the U.S. in large numbers during the Third Wave.9

Advertisement for Estudiantina Española Fígaro (usually just referred to as “Spanish Students” in the U.S.) and the group’s upcoming performance at Booth’s Theatre in Manhattan.

The Italian immigrant Carlo Curti10 formed the “Original Spanish Students” ensemble after the success the original Madrid Estudiantina Española Fígaro (Figaro Spanish Students) and toured with his group around the U.S. playing mandolins rather than the bandurrias of the Estudiantina. This was just one of many groups imitating the Spanish Students group, even going so far as to dress in “traditional” costumes as the Estudiantina did. It wasn’t until 1909 that Curti would form an Italian version of the group: The Roman Students.11 As the popularity of the Estudiantina Española Fígaro and imitators waned, many of the Italian musicians masquerading as Spanish musicians would go on to form Mandolin Orchestras.

Mandolin Orchestras became widespread all around the world during this period,12 partly due to the large number of Italians that emigrated, but also due to the proliferation of mass manufacturing of mandolins and plucked stringed instruments. Guitar manufacturing companies (e.g. Gibson, Martin, and Lyon & Healy) were adapting to the ethnic music trends13 in the U.S. and this led to innovations in their production capabilities. Once the trend faded they returned to focusing on guitar manufacturing but used some of those techniques learned meeting prior demands for mandolins and other ethnic plucked strings.14

Dayton Mandolin Orchestra ca 1910. Website:

Two things stand out with the early Mandolin Orchestra movement. The first is that many of them were mixed-gendered. This was a period of time where Women’s Orchestras16 were being formed around the U.S.. That there were other orchestral organizations which completely bypasses the exclusion of women from ensembles is a testament to the community focus these groups had rather than the White Men’s Club focus of most Classical Music17 organizations.

The second is that many ethnic groups often included mandolins in their hybrid ethnic ensembles. Being a readily available instrument more closely tied to an ethnic immigrant community it became a useful substitute or complement for native and indigenous plucked strings from other traditions.18

The Filipino Serenaders, ca. 1925, is one of at least two groups of performing musicians from the Philippines active in Minneapolis in the early part of the twentieth centrury.

Preservation of Musical Culture requires a robust Music Ecosystem

If we compare and contrast the Music Ecosystems tied to Croatian Americans and Italian Americans we can draw some tentative conclusions as to how they fit into the broader U.S. cultural landscape. For the sake of convenience, let’s just look at the orchestras.

The Aurora Mandolin Orchestra, from Northern California, performing “Sul Lago di Molveno” Giacomo Sartori’s “Sul Lago di Molveno” for Mandolin Orchestra. Website:

For the most part in the U.S. Tamburitza Orchestras are intracommunal ensembles. In many cases, the orchestras are part of Tamburitzan groups of folk dancers and singers often collaborating with or functioning as cohesive troupes with the tamburitza players. In contrast, Mandolin Orchestras began as commercial enterprises, starting as touring groups mimicking Spanish Student bandurria ensembles. After that they became more Italian-centric local community Mandolin Orchestras. While intracommunal childrens’ programs for music, song, and dance in Croatian American communities started early, that wasn’t often the case with Italian Americans. This makes some sense as Italy already had a rich Classical Music tradition, especially Opera, that could be drawn on by Italian Americans for cultural education. The mandolin itself was an instrument with many compositions for it, especially in baroque era.19

While Mandolin Orchestras were particularly popular to the wider public, especially in its community orchestra form, it quickly declined in popularity from the Great Depression to WWII and only recently has seen a bit of a resurgence. However, the number of groups currently active are dwarfed by those of the pre-WWII era. For example, in Louisville there is one Mandolin Orchestra, but in 1910 there were eight such groups.20 Many of the Tamburitza Orchestras today were in existence in the early part of the 20th century and there hasn’t really been a decline in the number of ensembles. If anything, there might be slightly more groups now than in the past.

The Hrvatski Tamburaški Orkestar performing Domagoj Vukadin’s “Makedonso Ples” 2012 October 18. Website:

Tamburitza Orchestras often perform in folkloric costume while Mandolin Orchestras are on the formal side sometimes even taking the formal concert black of Classical Music groups. While some Tamburitza Orchestra performances are in concert staging, many are intracommunal performances and/or part of large ethnic fests featuring Croatian culture. Mandolin Orchestras are more often found in the concert halls or concert staging type performances than at ethnic festivals.21 Many of the recently formed groups have a much more tentative relationship to Italian American communities–especially those in cities without much of an Italian American population. There are very few, if any, Tamburitza Orchestras found outside of Croatian American communities.

Both Tamburitza and Mandolin Orchestras play arrangements of light classics and standard classical music repertoire, as well as arrangements of folk tunes. They both perform works composed specifically for the ensemble types and have a long history of repertoire that dates back to well over a hundred years. In general, Mandolin Orchestras seem to do more commissioning of new works. While the mandolin as an instrument has achieved some popularity and regular usage in other American genres of music,22 the Tamburitza is still used mainly in Croatian musical genres, and the repertoire reflects this.


In preserving aspects of the cultures of their homelands, these Croatian Americans and Italian Americans from the Third Wave had many strategies in common but also significant differences. While historical chance led the Estudiantina Española Fígaro to make a splash in the U.S. which helped propel Italian American Mandolin Orchestras into prominence, the Croatian Americans had no such luck. Given that and the history of Italian Opera in the US, and the long and rich Classical Music tradition of Italy, Italian immigrants’ culture more easily assimilated into American culture, already being somewhat familiar, while Croatian Americans’ musical culture remained strongly intracommunal.

While Native Americans were being sent to Indian boarding schools to destroy the culture of new generations, the U.S. was commercializing “exotic” cultures with “Indianist” compositions and operas while simultaneously experiencing tours of Estudiantina Española from Madrid and the subsequent touring Italian Americans masquerading as the “New Spanish Students.” As Croatian Immigrants were creating their own intracommunal music ecosystem with Tamburitzan groups, Italian Americans and instrument manufacturers will be capitalizing on the post Spanish Student craze and popularity of the mandolin by creating Mandolin Orchestras.

In the part 5 (Neocolonialism) and part 6 (Commercialization) of this series we’ll look at how other marginalized groups fit into these patterns of assimilation and colonialism as well as how the music instrument manufacturers and sheet music publishing industries contributed to creating a White, Male, and Eurocentric music ecosystem.


  1. I was originally going to attend at least one day of the event with one of my band-mates in il Troubadore and Croatian American, Dianna Davis, but as often happens with gigging musicians I ended up getting several gigs that weekend so was unable to make the trip. The World Music ensemble, il Troubadore, was founded by Robert Bruce Scott and me and focuses on playing music from all around the world. Dianna joined us a few years ago and has added her Eastern European (and other) tunes to the il Troubadore repertoire.
  2. The CFU is the oldest fraternal benefit society for Croatian Americans in the U.S. It was founded in 1894 (see Croatian Fraternal Union of America (nd) “History”).
  3. The CFU Children’s Home was an orphanage for children of deceased CFU members built in 1918 and closed in 1967 (see Croatian Fraternal Union of America (nd) “History” and Demark 2018).
  4. While Sremac (2002) states that Tamburitza groups were performing in the last decades of the nineteenth century, March (2013, pg. 87) states that the first Tamburitza performance was in 1900. March (ibid, pg. 86) states that the first Croatian American Choir was founded in 1902.
  5. See Sremac (2002).
  6. While most of the early Mandolin Orchestras around the world were formed around the same time period, many of them were inspired by different models or they inspired different models of plectrum orchestras. For example, Vasily Andreyev‘s inspiration to start his own Balalaika Orchestra in 1887 was the circolo mandolinisti of Italian composer and mandolinist, Ginislao Paris, who founded the Society of Amateur Mandolinists and Guitarists of St. Petersburg in the 1880s (see Speranski 2014).
  7. La Tuna is a old tradition at universities in Spain that dates back to the 13th century. Students use it as a way to earn some money while they’re in school usually playing ensembles with folk instruments while singing (see Sorbet 2014 and Ken 2018). If this sounds a little like the Mariachi ensembles we looked at in the first piece of this series, then you can see how far back the lineage of those types of large ensembles go through the Spanish Diaspora.
  8. The Estudiantina Española Fígaro founded in 1878 by Dionisio Granados in Madrid, but wasn’t the first of the Estudiantina Española. Practically every university had one or some other form of tuna group.
  9. In most reviews of the Estudiantina Española Fígaro the instruments referenced were mandolins though the students were actually playing the Spanish bandurria, a similar instrument (for example, see Christoforidis 2018, pg. 27; Hambly 1977, Chapter 4).
  10. Carlo Curti came to the U.S. as a violinist of a French Orchestra. A composer, he wrote a number of compositions for Mandolin Orchestra, many of which were Spanish themed works (see Dickson 2015).
  11. Curti’s Roman Students was very much modeled on the success of the Spanish Students using costuming and emphasizing the Italian instruments.
  12. It should be noted that Mandolin Orchestras from that period were just as often a combination of Banjos, Mandolins, and Guitars (BMG). There were also banjo-centric orchestras during the time (see Hambly 1977, Chapter 4), and occasionally “symphonic” orchestras which included plectrum strings such as James Reese Europe’s Clef Club Orchestra (see Miner 2013). It should be noted that orchestras, and more generally music, of the time was segregated–about more we’ll get into in the next part of this series. Guitars would eventually become more popular after the waning of the former.
  13. In addition to the Tamburitza and Mandolin Orchestras, a number of other ethnic groups brought their plucked string orchestral and large ensemble traditions with them to the U.S. during that period: For example, Balalaika orchestras from Russia (Kreitzer , pg. 230); and Hawaiian String Bands (See Bozanic 2015, Chapter 3) and Rondalla orchestras (Kreitzer , pg. 229) from conquered/annexed countries of Hawaii and the Philippines. I’ve recently discovered how Mandolin Orchestras are also a part of some Jewish immigrants histories (Ger Mandolin Orchestra, nd; Stein 2013)
  14. See Bozanic 2015, pp. 108-110 in the section titled “Mandolin Production/Innovations by Guitar Companies”; Laing 2010.
  15. I’ve had the pleasure of performing at every Midwest Mandolin Festival for the few years of its existence with il Troubadore. The first two years (2005 and 2006) I actually shared the stage with the Dayton Mandolin Orchestra and that was my first exposure to Mandolin Orchestras.
  16. It wasn’t until 1930 that harpist Edna Philips would become the first woman to join the Philadelphia Orchestra. Women were first accepted into orchestras in Europe at different periods, see Roberts (2018) for a history of women in Eurocentric orchestras.
  17. See Nwanoku (2019).
  18. As mentioned in note 12., many of the plectrum orchestras of the period were a combination of BMG. In the case of the other ethnic groups (e.g. see note 13.) those indigenous ensemble types would often also be populated by some BMGs.
  19. There was already a history of Italian music in the U.S. through opera so some aspects of American music education had already incorporated Italian musical culture. The era after the Great Depression would also see Italian American vocalists make it into the mainstream (see Library of Congress “Italian American Song”).
  20. See Bernstein (1999).
  21. And sometimes the cultures collaborate. For example, the 16th annual San Francisco Festival of Mandolins took place at the Croatian American Cultural Center in San Francisco (Kaliss 2016). This recalls the early “American settler movement” that took place during the Third Immigration Wave and how the new immigrants had to fit into essentially one of three models of Americanization (Laušević 2007, Chapter 3).
  22. Bluegrass and Celtic primarily.


Aurora Mandolin Orchestra (nd) <<>>

Bernstein, Adam (1999) “Mandolins Make a Comeback, But There’s Still Reason to Fret” Chicago Tribune, January 22, <<>>

Bozanic, Andrew D. A. (2015) “The acoustic guitar in American culture, 1880-1980″ University of Delaware, Department of History, <<>>

Christoforidis, Michael (2018) “Serenading Spanish Students on the Streets of Paris: The International Projection of Estudiantinas in the 1870s” Nineteenth-Century Music Review, Vol. 15, Iss. 1, pp. 23-36, <<>>

Cleveland Junior Tamburitzans (2020) Cleveland Junior Tamburitzans Website, <<>>

Croatian Fraternal Union of America (nd) “History” CFU, <<>>

Croatian Fraternal Union of America (2020) CFU Website, <<>>

Demark, Nikolina (2018) “1500 Croatian Americans to Attend Junior Tamburitza Festival in Zagreb” Total Croatia News, <<>>

Dianna Davis (nd) <<>>

Dickson, Jean (2015) “Mandolin Mania in Buffalo’s Italian Community, 1895 to 1918” Journal of World Anthropology, Occasional Papers: Volume II, Number 2, <<>>

Ger Mandolin Orchestra (nd) “The Ger Mandolin Orchestra Story” <<>>

Hambly, Scott (1977) “Mandolins in the United States since 1880: An Industrial and Sociocultural History of Form” University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D. Folklore, <<>>

Hrvatski Tamburaški Orkestar (nd) <<>>

Ifković, Edward (nd) “Croatian Americans” Countries and Their Cultures, Everyculture, World Culture Encyclopedia, <<>>

il Troubadore (2004-2020) <<>>

Kalish, John (2014) “Mandolin Orchestra Celebrates 90 Years Of Harmony” NPR, <<>>

Kaliss, Jeff (2016) “Mandolin Orchestras Are a Thing – And They Have Their Own S.F. Festival” San Francisco Classical Voice, <<>>

Kan, Jack (2018) “Spanish singing La Tuna group turns Distance Learning Center into a dance hall” El Camino College: The Union, <<>>

Kreitzer, Amy (2001) “Sweet Harmonies from Little Wooden Boxes: Mandolin Playing in Minneapolis and St. Paul” Minnesota History 57.5 <<>>

Laing, Meredith (2010) “The Miraculous Mandolin” Making Music Magazine, <<>>

Laušević, Mirjana (2007) Balkan Fascination: Creating and Alternative Music Culture in America, Oxford University Press, <<>>

Library of Congress (nd) “Italian American Song” <<>>

March, Richard (2013) The Tamburitza Tradition: From the Balkans to the American Midwest, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, <<>>

Miner, Gregg (2013) “James Reese Europe and the Clef Club Orchestra” Harpguitars, <<,public.htm#cc>>

Nwanoku, Chi-chi (2019) “Classical music is overwhelmingly white and male. My orchestra shows that can change” The Guardian, <<>>

Philip, Martin (2014) “Trends in Migration to the U.S.” PRB, <<>>

Robert Bruce Scott (nd) <<>>

Roberts, Maddy Shaw (2018) “When were women first allowed to join the orchestra?” Classic FM, <<>>

Runez, Rudolph F., and Sarah R Mason (1979) “Asians in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Rudolph F. Runez” Asians in Minnesota Oral History Project, <<>>

Silpayamanant, Jon (2020) “Diversity, Inclusive Programming, and Music Education (part 1): Intro” Mae Mai, <<>>

Soret, Carmen (2014) “La Tuna” USC Digital Folklore Archives: A database of folklore performances, <<>>

Sparks, Paul (2005) The Classical Mandolin, Oxford University Press, <<>>

Speranski, Victor (2014) “Ginislao Paris” The Russian Embergher <<>> See the archived PDF <<>>

Sremac, Stjepan (2002) “Hrvati i Tambura u Sjedinjenim Američkim Državama” Etnološka tribina : Godišnjak Hrvatskog etnološkog društva, Vol. 32 No. 25, <<>>; Summary in English <<>>, Trans. by Sanja Kalapoš Gašparac.

Stein, Eric (2013) “The Ger Mandolin Orchestra a window on a once-popular form of community musicmaking” Ludwig Van, <<>>

Tamburitza Association of America (2020) <<>>

Zangwill, David (1908) The Melting Pot, <<>>

2 thoughts on “Diversity, Inclusive Programming, and Music Education (part 4): Immigration

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s