For the blog this week, I thought it would be interesting to cover some ground that you may not realise from just attending one of our concerts. I hope the ten facts are enlightening, and we will return to our normal diary-style blog next week. I would like to thank Stephen Walker as I have used his ‘Scarborough Spa Orchestra Centenary Brochure’ as a reference for some of the historical points below.
1. We are a professional orchestra.
This means that we have all trained to a high level of musical performance, whether at music college or university. To us, the Spa is a source of income, but that is not to say we do not enjoy what we do, we are just lucky enough to have a job that we love doing. Outside of the season, we all support ourselves through music: Paul treads the boards of the theatre in Stevenage, and Directs musical theatre in York; Mike Gray leads the 2nd violins of the BBC Concert Orchestra; Diane Stewart freelances and teaches cello; Lisa Featherstone freelances and teaches double bass; Mark Addison freelances and teaches brass; Rick Scoates plays with the Northern Ballet Orchestra; Michael Harper freelances in Manchester and teaches percussion; Kathy Seabrook leads music sessions for children in the Scarborough area, lectures at the University in Scarborough and teaches flute; Graham Quilter repairs woodwind instruments, teaches saxophone and clarinet and occasionally moonlights as a plumber’s mate; Chloë Vanns teaches woodwind.
2. We have a librarian (and a librarian’s assistant) who prepare every piece of music we play.
Stephen Walker, aided by his wife Judith, prepares every pieces of music we play. With an average of 15 pieces per concert, with 10 parts, that’s 150 parts per concert, or 1350 per week. Over a 14 week season that’s 18900 sheets of music to be put in individual folders, then put away again. But that is not the full extent of the job; they help organise the programme choice for the concerts, Stephen can be found presenting a gala concert or two (which he writes himself), Stephen liases with guest artistes, he types up every programme, he submits the forms for Performing Rights Society which means writing out the title, composer, arranger and publisher for every piece of music we play…I could go on. As a general rule, if there is a piece of paper to do with the Spa Orchestra, Stephen is normally behind it! It is a behind the scenes job, but we do hope Stephen and Judith don’t find it thankless as every member of the orchestra is eternally grateful for the hard work and passion that goes into the job they do.
3. We are the only remaining professional seaside orchestra left in the UK.
Once upon a time, or in the Victorian era of the British seaside holiday, most holiday resorts would have had an orchestra, they were the discotheques of the day. Musicians would play in the symphony orchestras of the cities, notably London and Manchester, in the winter ‘season’ then spend the summer entertaining holiday-makers at British resorts. As air travel became possible, then cheaper and more convenient, the British holiday declined in favour. With fewer tourists the orchestras found they could no longer support themselves and one by one stopped playing. It really was a series of fortunate events, mostly some very clever musical directors, that have kept the Spa Orchestra playing where others have failed.
4. The longest serving members of the current orchestra are Kathy and Graham who are on their 27th season.
Graham auditioned for the 1988 season under the leadership of Mark Ostyn and was appointed; Kathy, however, was drafted in after the season had already begun as it had become clear that she was the right woman for the job. At the end of the season they will have matched Max Jaffa’s run of 27 years meaning that next year they will be the most dedicated members of the Spa Orchestra ever having given 28 years to the job.
5. The majority of our pieces are not arranged for our ten-piece ensemble.
On the whole our pieces are full orchestra or full band parts. Decisions are made as to which parts are most important, for example should the trombone actually play a horn part, or should there be two clarinets, or clarinet and bassoon? Or sometimes it is dictated by what parts are missing. Then a score goes to Paul on piano and he will fill in the harmonies and missing melodic lines. A lot of individual decision-making goes on as we play e.g. should the violin play the 2nd violin part to create a harmony with the flute line? This is then marked in the part ready for the next time it is played.
Needless to say it is a welcome relief when we do play a piece that has been specifically arranged for our small numbers. Over the years musical directors and composers have added their own arrangements to our repertoire, the most poignant perhaps being ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ arranged for the orchestra by the composer himself.
6. It is very unusual that we do not have a conductor.
Most orchestras find they need a conductor to keep time and shape the music that is being played. Certainly the Spa Orchestra started with Alick Maclean as a conductor, but he had 35 players under his baton. With 10 players, we can play as if we are chamber musicians, and look at the prominent player for time changes, or communicate expression through movement. It is a skill that has to be developed, but it can be truly magical when ten people play as if one musician.
7. We date the anniversary of the orchestra from 1912 as that is when there was first an organised orchestra with string instruments under the baton of Alick Maclean.
Before 1912 there was music on the Spa, but it was mostly bands made up of local musicians playing brass and woodwind instruments (though a harp was recorded as being played in 1854!). Unfortunately there was comment on the sub-standard playing of the musicians at the Spa when Alick Maclean was called upon to bring people back to the Spa. This was one of those moments, as mentioned above, that helped keep the orchestra alive where others were failing. It was Maclean’s decision to bring an orchestra to the Spa and it was this that brought people to the concerts. He was a real showman and continued to lead the orchestra for 24 years.
8. There are 11 Spa Orchestra children at the moment.
Ranging in age from 2 to 19, the orchestra has 10 children between them. It might well be worth looking for them in the Spa Orchestra of the future!
9. We play roughly 23 instruments between us.
The instruments are thus: Piano (keyboard), Violin, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone Saxophone, Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Trumpet, Cornet, Flugelhorn, Trombone, Mini-Tuba (Euphonium), Timpani, Drum Kit, Tuned Percussion (Marimba, Glockenspiel, Xylophone), Singing. That is not to mention the actions that we throw in from time to time! Every member plays/sings at least two of the above, and there are lots of overlaps where two or more members play the same instrument. Apologies if there are any instruments missed out!
10. We currently have one scheduled rehearsal each week.
As we play such a huge array of pieces, and spend a lot of our time actually giving concerts, we don’t often rehearse. Thursday afternoons are set aside to practise for gala concerts which are often more difficult and involve singers and could not be done without a rehearsal. The rest of the week we take 30 minutes prior to each concert to ‘talk-through’ the music that is going to be played. This involves Paul indicating speeds, and time changes, who to look at for various melodies, checking instrumentation, checking notes, and general geography of the music, so repeats, da capos and cuts. This can often be daunting for a player who is coming in to cover and does not necessarily know the music, but we always help each other out, and have been lucky enough to have some excellent musicians come into the band.