Mark was born and raised in New York City. Both of his parents were steeped in the folk music revival scene of the 1950's. He grew up listening to 78's and LP's of American, Russian, Spanish, Caribbean and Israeli folk music. His sister was a professional harpist. Learning guitar and taking piano lessons starting at age 5, he was constantly immersed in music.
In his youth, Mark gained a love of traditional American ballads and Old-Time songs and instrumentals from recordings and from his father, who often sang the old ballads which he had learned in his youth in Appalachia. From his early years in college, Mark was often playing these tunes and accompanying himself on the mountain dulcimer.
His interest in Balkan music developed in his early teens when he began folk dancing at John Wagner's studio. A good friend sent him back a gaida from Bulgaria and he began to teach himself how to play the instrument in 1969. In 1970 he moved to Montreal to go to college and became a regular at the Yellow Door Coffeehouse where he bought his first own mountain dulcimer. He started playing concertina two years later.
After earning a Bachelor's degree in Folklore, Mark went to graduate school at SUNY Binghamton and ended up settling there until 1994. Sometime in the early '90's he discovered Swedish spelmansmusik and fell in love with the traditional fiddle music of Sweden. Rather than trying to learn yet another instrument, he began playing this music on concertina which he found was capable of playing the intricate harmonies of multiple fiddle parts. Later he began to adapt the Swedish style to dulcimer as well. In May of 2002, Mark moved to Austin, Texas.
Just as he learned many songs and tunes of the Catskills and Adirondacks when he lived in New York, Mark's move to Texas has inspired him to learn a repertoire of traditional Texas songs and fiddle tunes which he plays on mountain dulcimer. In 2016 Mark gained the highest accolade for his dulcimer virtuosity by winning the National Mountain Dulcimer contest in Winfield, Kansas.
Here's what people are saying about Mark:
"Mark Gilston is Dynamite. You Have Been Warned." - Heather Wood
"We love your music." - Jean Ritchie and George Pickow
"Mark stands alone in his astounding ability to adapt world roots music to the mountain dulcimer. He uses all five fingers of his left hand to effectively combine melody and chords like no other." - Stephen Seifert
"Mark Gilston is a lap dulcimer virtuoso...now there's two words you don't often hear used together in the same sentence." - Alan Freeman
"Mark - your arrangements show a true mastery of the dulcimer, and your knowledge of traditions is so amazing!" - Jerry Rockwell
"You make such outstanding contributions to the mountain dulcimer." - Lois Hornbostel
"I just listened to LEND ME AN EAR. It is terrific!" - Joe Hickerson
"I finally met Mark Gilston, who just returned from teaching at Cullowhee - what an amazing spirit and talent! Mark provided a refreshing second wind that kept me jamming and visiting until waaay past my bedtime." - Bing Futch
"You have chops for miles" - Jennifer Cutting
"My wife and I listened to your CD and found it totally delightful. Thanks for sharing your music with us and enriching our lives." - Nick Bratkovich
"I had the pleasure of meeting and playing with Mark... His harmonic style and ease on the English concertina is truly impressive." - Jody Kruskal
"Mark Gilston ... taught an English (concertina) accompaniment workshop. His English accompaniment style was extraordinary and I found his performance of some haunting Balkan tunes especially superb." - Stephen Mills