A mountain musician plucks his way across the globe


A picture is worth a thousand words, and Dennis White ’76 knows this better than most. “A photograph changed the course of my life,” White said.

An experienced musician, White was teaching private lessons in Montana when the life-altering photo came his way. “One of my students brought in a photo of the Bozeman Mandolin and Guitar Club of 1902-06,” White said. The picture sparked the idea to rekindle the club. The group started as a few friends and musicians playing for fun Thursday evenings in White’s living room but soon blossomed into something much bigger: the Montana Mandolin Society. “I never thought I’d be creating this kind of music,” White said. “The vast range has been incredible.”

Founded by White in 1999, the Montana Mandolin Society is one of only two nationally touring mandolin ensembles in the United States. Frequenting international festivals and mandolin conferences, the society has gained a good deal of popularity. “Music has no borders,” White said. “We all speak the same language when it comes to music.” The society’s roots are in Montana community performances, schools and workshops; however, its members welcome all audiences. Playing everywhere possible, from Washington to Tokyo, the Montana Mandolin Society aims to educate listeners about the beauty and versatility of the mandolin.

In addition to its educational role, the MMS is a renowned performance ensemble. In 2001, Montana state senators selected the MMS to represent their state in a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Montana Mandolin Society was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” has performed on Capitol Hill and in third-grade classrooms, and treats each performance as a chance to connect audiences with the rich history and sound of the American mandolin.

“I never would have traveled, met or played with as many great players had I not started the MMS,” White said.

Suzanne Raether is a professional writing graduate student from New Orleans.