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80 Years of the Harborne Orchestra

Our Story: 1940 - 2020, by Caroline

The Harborne Orchestra began in 1940 and was set up as the Birmingham Municipal Orchestra to provide an amateur and training setting for players of instruments. Roger Jones was a founder member, joining as a boy with his father, who also played the cello. Roger’s father was a talented player and made a double bass from scratch for the use of the orchestra, and any players who wished to try it. I remember it being played over the 1980s until it was sadly destroyed by vandals. The orchestra became an adult education evening class at some point, and was sponsored and supported by the City Council.

The orchestra attracted many players, but living memory of it starts in the 1970s when the conductor was Trevor Collins. Trevor was a charismatic conductor, and also conducted other amateur groups including local operatic societies. The orchestra met at Station Road School in Harborne, and the headmaster there played the violin with us.

The orchestra was an adult education authority evening class, and at this time there was a lot of interest in playing music from the community and other orchestras were being set up, including the Causeway Green orchestra which met at Causeway Green Junior school off the Wolverhampton Road.

In the 1980s the Harborne orchestra moved to the George Dixon School in Sandwell. During the decade, Trevor and his wife Shelley continued to conduct. Then in the late 1980s the orchestra moved again to the Martineau Centre in Balden Road. At this time, interest was low and the orchestra decided to combine with the Causeway Green orchestra. This provided enough players to keep going.

During the 1990s Trevor and Shelley withdrew from the orchestra due to Trevor’s ill health. Ann Hagyard, an oboist conducted, followed by Richard Smith. During these years, the orchestra gave a number of concerts at churches in Harborne, Bearwood and Sandwell. The repertoire was mainly light with songs from the shows, like Oklahoma, South Pacific and overtures such as the Thieving Magpie and Tancredi, and some of the easier Mozart and Beethoven Symphonies.

The adult education authority decided to quit supporting the orchestra in 2002. The orchestra held a meeting with all members to try to decide a way forward and everyone was keen to continue, so a committee was set up to run the orchestra as a private organisation. The first chairman was Felicity Murphy who played the violin. Later followed by Jill Jack, flute, 2003/04 and Richard Bridges, clarinet, 2004 to 2020.

There was a rather unsuccessful attempt to use young conductors from the Conservatoire. Then in 2003 interviews were held by the orchestra with a number of candidates for the conductor post. Members unanimously chose Pat Ryan. He had fortuitously just joined the orchestra to play violin. Pat had connections with the CBSO and had been in the Marines as a  bandsman. He was then conducting the Birmingham Fire Service band.

Under Pat’s baton, the orchestra played more light music and Pat was a very charismatic concert promoter, involving much audience participation. Our concerts at this time tended to involve school choirs and so audience figures were high as the Mums and Dads came. Carol singing at Christmas was also popular. I remember a concert where Pat delegated the baton to a little girl from the audience, who had great fun conducting Sleigh Ride, to great audience applause.

In April 2010 the orchestra performed in ‘The City Sings’ Concert at the Adrian Boult Hall. The City Sings was a community choirs initiative to offer choirs the opportunity to learn and perform an anthem composed by Helen Ottoway, commissioned by the MAC for it’s re-opening in 2010. The orchestra played Brahms Hungarian Dance no.1, before accompanying the choir for ‘The City Sings’ anthem.
John Meadows joined us in 2015. He is a professional clarinetist and teacher, and the orchestra has broadened its repertoire and achieved a high standard.

We have played works like Vltava by Smetana, Beethoven symphonies and other more challenging pieces. We had a very memorable performance of a Telemann oboe concerto with Jo Luckett as soloist. We have also played such lighter items as Pirates of Penzance, and arrangements of Abba songs. New players have been attracted, and the orchestra’s presence on the internet has been enhanced by the work of Michael Osborne on Facebook and the web site.

2020 started well with a spring term with good attendance and some very good players. We were attempting the Prokofiev Prince Igor suite, which is hard even for professional players. However, the coronavirus crisis resulted in lockdown from March, and we were unable to play for the rest of the year.

We look forward to a fresh start post-pandemic with some new repertoire and renewed impetus from our current conductor John Meadows and our members.

If you would like to be part of our orchestra please get in touch.

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