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Patrick’s mandolin challenge

Patrick McHugh has been learning a mandolin tune by ear every day since March 2020 to raise money for Martlets. He has been taking requests, videoing each performance and asking for sponsorship. On 21 March he will celebrate completing a year of the challenge and is on track to smash his £365 target.

“On 22 March last year, I thought I’d try and learn a mandolin tune by ear each day. An acting job had just finished and all the work I had coming up was cancelled due to COVID. One of those jobs was a theatre tour which would’ve meant me playing a lot of mandolin. I felt I didn’t have a particularly wide repertoire of tunes so should learn some more. I’ve been playing since 2018 as I needed to start learning the mandolin for a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I began sharing my mandolin videos on a WhatsApp group I started. It includes people I work with and from my running club, plus lots of other actors and musicians that I know. A lot of them had had work cancelled due to COVID so it was somewhere to share creative stuff.

I started learning a new tune by ear each day and realised I was getting to about 100. That’s when I started numbering them and marking different milestones. I learnt songs for different occasions like Christmas, Hannukah and something spooky for Halloween. Recently I did ‘I wanna be loved by you’ for Valentine’s Day.

I got to 300 about a month ago which was another milestone. Someone asked if they could perhaps give money to a charity as a way of marking the 300 days. That’s when I set up my Just Giving page and decided to try and raise £365 for a 365-day challenge.

Martlets is my family’s charity of choice

My mum had always raised money for Martlets as she knew of friends and colleagues who had been in as patients over the years. I’ve run marathons for Martlets for the last five years and my mum was running for them before that. Usually, she and I would make a shared Just Giving page for those.

One of the surprises with the mandolin challenge has been how so many different people have stepped up to donate. Some of them I haven’t seen for 10 years and might not normally sponsor the marathons. But they’ve found me through the WhatsApp group and are engaged with the mandolin challenge which is great.

Easy listening

I also play oboe, guitar and a bit of saxophone. It’s the mandolin though that seems to be best for learning by ear as I find it quite intuitive. The mandolin lends itself to this because it can be classical, poppy, blue grassy or folky.

Learning new tunes does get easier. Sometimes the stuff you think will be hard that requires going all over the instrument is actually easy. Whereas tunes you think will be simple to learn aren’t always easy. I covered a Tears for Fears song, ‘Woman in chains’, for a friend and there’s no mandolin in that. So, I had to work out the bass line and get the different singers’ ranges all on the mandolin. That was more of a challenge as you’re having to arrange as you go. It didn’t naturally lend itself to the mandolin, but it was fun.

Coping through COVID

Sometimes I’ll record my tune at 11 o’clock at night, other times it might be at 10am in the morning. Right now, I’m doing them in the evening when I get home from work. But when I’m not working, the days can feel empty during lockdown so it’s something to focus on. There were times last year during lockdown when all I could do was go for a run and play a mandolin tune. And then wake up and do the same again. It’s good during all of this COVID stuff to find one creative thing in the day that you can control. I’m enjoyed developing a new skillset with the mandolin and I find it really relaxing learning tunes on it.

 Could you take on your own challenge for Martlets?

Like so many charities, Martlets usually receives a lot of funding through big events such as marathons. COVID restrictions mean this has been a tough year for them. So, if you can, please do consider a fundraiser of your own. There are so many ways that you can raise money and reach out and inspire people. Some challenges people take on can feel really tough. It’s important to remember that it needs to be fun if it’s a long-term fundraiser; you need to stay inspired.

My tunes can be 20 seconds, two minutes or longer and I enjoy the variety of learning new things to share. I will be posting videos from throughout the past year as I get closer to my finish date of 21 March. Any donations are much appreciated and if you have any requests, I’d love to do them for you as a thank you. Perhaps I could attempt rapper Kanye West’s ‘Love Lockdown’ as a tribute to the challenging times we’re all going through!”

Please visit me Just Giving page to donate and to contact me.