Month: July 2013

Blog No. 3: David Lewis

Hello and welcome to my blog for the Scarborough Spa Orchestra. My role in the orchestra is slightly different from the first two contributors in that I am not a regular member of the orchestra but am drafted in to play percussion as and when Michael becomes tied up with other commitments. This means that I will often be performing pieces I have never rehearsed or even heard before. I am playing for the whole of this week from Monday morning, finishing with the Peasholm Park concert on Friday.

It is a privilege to play in this orchestra and I am always astonished by the high standard of the contributions from the other musicians. The string players each have to shoulder the responsibility of an entire section, both in volume and clarity which they do marvellously. The woodwind have exceptional versatility – where else would you need to play a Rossini Overture one evening followed by Take Five the next morning? The ability and subtlety of the brass duo is matched by the tremendous feats of endurance they achieve week in, week out. Finally, Paul has to mastermind the operation while playing more notes than any one of us.

The percussionist has to face similar challenges and I agree with Michael in that this work is among the most demanding that I do. Much of the repertoire that the orchestra performs needs more than one pair of percussive hands so often decisions have to be made about how to tackle certain pieces.  Doing justice to the music not only requires intense concentration but sometimes a certain amount of ingenuity and always a lot of forward planning. Here is a photo of the set-up for the evening concert of 23rd July 2013:


In order  to make life easier for myself I have set up a suspended triangle beater for when I need to play it but have no time to equip myself with the correct ‘bats’ for it:


Also, I sometimes have to find time to do running repairs on/modifications to equipment – yesterday I decided to separate the tubular bells with string to stop them from striking each other:


As a freelance professional player, one of the biggest positive aspects of your work is the variety and, linked to this, the opportunity to learn and grow as a musician. The repertoire of this orchestra is as vast and varied as it is unique and I am honoured to be a part of this special ensemble.

Finally, this blog wouldn’t be complete without special mention of the orchestra’s audience who are warm, friendly and loyal. I think it is worth making a visit to hear the Orchestra or perhaps even promote Scarborough to your favoured holiday destination to take advantage of the weekly/seasonal rates.  I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of orchestral music, particularly light repertoire of the 20th Century. 



Blog No. 2: Michael Harper

Michael’s Blog (15th-19th July 2013)

This is the first time I have ever written a blog so here goes.

My name is Michael Harper and I am the Percussionist in the Scarborough Spa Orchestra. This is my second season back after a gap of seventeen years, were I had been a member for three seasons. (1992-1994)

This is my first full week as I have had commitments playing for Opera North’s production of “Siegfried” in June and rehearsals for a Prom in London with the BBC Philharmonic.

Playing Percussion in this unique orchestra is one of the hardest jobs I have ever done.  Every concert requires a different set up usually requiring kit, timpani, tuned percussion and lots of effects sound as well as being able to play in many different styles. In my normal freelance work this would be covered by four or five players. It is essential to be organized! It takes some planning and decision making about what to play and what to miss out when we only rehearse once a week.

The week started with glorious sunshine and a concert in the Suncourt. This means moving equipment outside and ensuring it is set correctly. Luckily Chris is on hand in the mornings to assist me.

Once the concert had finished I then reset the stage for the evening concert and tried to work out if there were any quick changes within pieces.  I then practiced for my solo the next day. (More on that later)

Then it was off to the beach with Mark & Chloe. It’s not all hard work!

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Monday night’s concert went well but it was a shame to see such a small audience.

Tuesday was another glorious day and I cycled the long way to the Spa via the North Bay before an early morning run through of my solo for the evening concert. Not sure those involved enjoyed the 10am rehearsal though!

The morning concert was again in the Suncourt. I particularly enjoyed hearing the fabulous playing of Rick (Trombone) and Mark (Trumpet) in “Lover Comes Back to Me” and Kathy flying around on the piccolo. A little more practice and another trip to the beach. It really would be rude not too!

Tuesday evening was my first chance to play a solo and I had chosen an arrangement of a Ragtime piece called “Dill Pickles” for Xylophone.  This orchestra is the only opportunity I have to play solos so each time always feels like a bit of an “event.” I was pleased with how the piece went and glad to play a piece that had never been heard at the Spa before.  I also enjoyed hearing the other solos from Mark, Di and Graham.

Wednesday was yet another glorious day and a chance to chat with a few of the audience before the concert in the Suncourt. It is a part of the job that I really enjoy. We are very lucky to have an extremely loyal set of followers who love what we do. It is of course, always nice to hear people say that they enjoyed your playing too!


The non-musical highlight of the week came on Wednesday afternoon when Mark and I had a bike ride through Hackness, Wykeham Forest and the Forge Valley.  This really is a beautiful part of the world that thankfully lots of visitors to Scarborough never see.

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The Wednesday evening concert went well with quite a few difficult pieces to navigate and a chance to play the Vibraphone in “Sailing By” by Ronald Binge and some tambourine in “Girl from Corsica.”

Thursday was again a lovely sunny day with another cycle around the North Bay followed by request morning. I always enjoy these concerts as the music is chosen by our audience, often creating a very diverse programme.

It was really good to start off the concert with “Mambo Italiano.” It seemed to create a great atmosphere in the Suncourt. It made me think we should discuss starting more concerts this way.

Sometimes during the morning concerts I get a chance to have a look around the audience and catch people singing along and tapping their feet. One lady in particular was having a lovely time singing every word of the Gilbert and Sullivan selection.

Paul announced the news to the audience that we would be playing tonight’s concert outside in the Suncourt, something that we had discussed the previous evening but were not sure could make happen.  I’m informed it would be the first time in many years.

A little relaxation time then followed!

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Just got back from the evening concert outside and it seems to have been a real success. We played lots of different styles of dance music which everyone enjoyed.  It was quite a busy concert for me with “Danse Macabre” and “The Grasshoppers Dance” both having very quick changes.

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Friday arrives and more sunshine. It really has been the most amazing week with all our morning concerts outside.

I then had to make a mad dash to Derbyshire for some education concerts. This is the life of a freelance musician!

I want to take this chance to congratulate Freddie August on playing violin with us this week. This is a really tough job and one that many would not or could not do. It involves a lot of preparation time behind the scenes. He has been great to have around especially in our “talk throughs.” Very entertaining!

Well that is a little look into my week in Scarborough. Hope you enjoyed reading it.


Blog No. 1: Chloe Vanns

This is the first official post for the blog of the Scarborough Spa Orchestra.  The aim for our blog is to give our readers an insight into the last remaining professional seaside orchestra in the UK.  This will be through personal posts by each of the members of this unique orchestra.

My name is Chloe Vanns and I am the bassoonist/clarinettist of the band, and also the newest and youngest member.  I feel it is strange for me to be talking about an institution that has been around for 101 years and yet this is only my third season as a bona fide player in the legendary Scarborough Spa Orchestra; however, maybe it is apt for me to start this blog, as in many ways I can see the ensemble from an outside and inside perspective.  I still find it amusing when it starts to rain in the suncourt and the audience puts up their multiple umbrellas as one, and think it is incredulous that we cover a repertoire of over 1,500 separate pieces of music.  But at the same time as I experience these things as new, I am welcomed back to the season as an old friend; I cannot wait to hear about the orchestra babies (though they are no longer babies), or ask the advice of people that I respect, and get on with.

What I would most like to tell a non-member is how the running of the orchestra is never as smooth as I hope we make it come across.  Moments that stick out in my memory, just this season, is turning up for a morning concert to find there was no keyboard, my bassoon breaking less than an hour prior to a ‘solo’,  and rehearsing a piece in the middle of the lake at Peasholm Park only to discover that we were a violin part short!  These are all little hiccoughs in the running of the band, and it is important to point out how hard a lot of people (Paul Laidlaw, our M.D., Stephen and Judith Walker, our librarians, and all the staff the Scarborough Spa) work to keep our little orchestra alive.  In my opinion, we are one of the most unique orchestras in the UK, not because we are keeping the seaside orchestra tradition going, but because every single member of the band cares about the orchestra and its future.  Not many of the UKs symphony orchestras can say their members have a personal interest in its well-being.

So to talk about the week just gone (8th-11th July).  For me this has been a lovely week as I have played two solo ‘spots’ (a lot for an instrument that does not naturally lend itself to melodies!), and my Mum came to visit.  It is important for me to share my season experiences with someone close to me, because the orchestra is so close to my heart.  I started the week playing the ‘Watermill’ by Ronald Binge, which I know is a favourite of one memebr of the audience; indeed he requests it to be played for him once every season.  I enjoy playing this short oboe piece, though I know it is a particular challenge for the string players who have very fast passages bubbling away underneath my lyric long notes.  Then on Tuesday, I had a solo spot to fill in the weekly evening ‘Classical’ concert, this time I could choose my own piece.  I chose the piece ‘Lucy Long’ by Fred Godfrey, it is a theme and variations.  It can be nerve-wracking to play on your own, even if accompanied by piano or orchestra; but this time, I stood up with the orchestra behind me and I felt at home.  I felt that I could express myself, musically, and play at ease, but most of all, enjoy myself.  Finally, on Wednesday morning, we were delighted to welcome a group of 120 children from a local primary school to our morning concert.  From start to finish the children were jumping and jiggling in their seats in time with the music, and this spurred on the orchestra.  Rik’s outrageous calls in ‘Fun on the Farm’ brought me tears of laughter, and Kathy’s virtuosic flute and piccolo solo piece reminded me how lucky I am to be playing with musicians of this calibre.

Thursday night was our dance band gala concert, which just goes to prove how diverse our repertoire is! Richard Adams helped to bring his jazz band audience to the Spa, and brought our music to more people.  Although the orchestra would not be here without its army of loyal and devoted audience, it is always great to see new faces, and I hope that it is in the next generation that the orchestra can find its longevity.

Please feel free to comment on every post on our blog, and add your own experiences of the orchestra to our memoir.  I hope I have given a small insight into the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, and with each new author, and I hope we reveal another layer of this one in a million ensemble.

Final Concert 2012, photo by Michael Gray

Final Concert 2012, photo by Michael Gray