Month: June 2014

Blog No. 14: 10 Things you may not know about the Scarborough Spa Orchestra

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.

bandstand logo


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.

last of summer wine


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.


alick maclean orchestra


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!

teddy piano


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.




Blog No. 13: Chloë Vanns

Welcome to the first blog of the 2014 season of the Scarborough Spa Orchestra! As a reminder, or for those of you who haven’t read our blog before, this blog is meant to serve as an insight into the life of a musician in the legendary Scarborough Spa Orchestra. Each member takes it in turn to relay the week’s events from their view point, and this week it is my turn.

This week had a great start with our concert on Sunday morning. This was a special concert as Sunday morning concerts are now free and this has created a real buzz. We must have had about 300 people in the audience! And what is more, it was Mike Gray’s first concert of the season, our modern day Max Jaffa, making it extra special. I spotted a group of four ladies who were new audience members taking lots of photos; I took the initiative and asked them to send me the photos so we could use them on our Facebook and Twitter pages. We got chatting and they were from Sweden, here in Scarborough learning English at AngloLang English Language School. This was particularly exciting for me as my brother, Aubin, currently lives in Gothenburg, Sweden and I tested my Swedish out, ‘Tack så mycket’ = ‘Thanks very much’. They really enjoyed their first Spa experience.

Packed Suncourt for free Sunday morning concert

Packed Suncourt for free Sunday morning concert

Sunday evening concert brought my mum, Rosemary, and her friend, Maureen, to Scarborough. I think I’ve said it before, but I always like having friends and family in the audience as I always feel I can play to them specifically. This certainly was true of Monday evening, our Classical night, when I stepped up for my solo spot and played my old favourite, ‘Lucy Long’ by Alfred Godfrey. Playing at the Spa has done wonders for my playing because I feel so at home and relaxed on stage and it means I can let the music speak for itself, rather than my nerves getting in the way. I enjoy it so much, in fact, that I volunteered for a second solo spot on Tuesday morning! I tried a new piece ‘Tarantella’ by Milde which is very fast and virtuosic, so I hope it came across as such.  As a bit of a treat for my visitors, we decided to visit the Harbour Bar on Scarborough sea front for ice cream sundaes, I cannot recommend them highly enough!

Ice cream sundaes

Ice cream sundaes


Tuesday evening was a welcome night off, and I said goodbye to my mum at York train station. I was fresh faced ready for Wednesday. The morning concert was attended by 70 school children from St Martin’s Primary School in Scarborough, and they were kind enough to allow me to take a photo. We decided as an orchestra to have Wednesday evening’s concert outside in the Suncourt as the alternative was in the Suncourt Suite next to the cafe which doesn’t quite have the grandeur of the Grand Hall. This turned out to be a bit of a brave decision as the evening went on it got more and more chilly. I have a lot of respect for our audience members who stuck it out through the whole concert, I can only guess that the sea in the sunset was beautiful enough to sustain them.


Children from St Martin’s Primary School with members of the Spa Orchestra

Sunset behind the Spa Orchestra

Sunset behind the Spa Orchestra

The revelation that evenings in the Suncourt are not yet warm enough was a bit of a dampener on the plans to have Thursday’s Midsummer gala concert outside. Nevertheless, we carried on with the best intentions and plans to stay inside. I arrived at the Spa on Thursday morning and was met with grey clouds and drizzle, not the best weather for our request morning. I set out my instruments in the Suncourt Suite and went backstage for our pre-concert talk-through. When we all emerged half an hour later we were greeted by glorious sunshine, the British weather playing a joke on us! Too late to reset the stage we ploughed through the curtains into our temporary performance space, presuming our audience would most likely be on the beach. To my great surprise we were met by a huge crowd filling up every available chair and space. It was a magical feeling to see so many of our supporters, old and new, in one place. After that there was no stopping us, and the camaraderie between the orchestra members and the audience was tangible as was the interplay between the individual players. This may have been helped by the brief return of the fantastic Michael Harper on percussion and Freddie August on violin, who covers magnificently when Mike Gray is away. I personally felt that the acoustic in the Suncourt Suite allowed us to hear each other more clearly and made playing pieces together much easier.

Cosy in the Suncourt Suite

Cosy in the Suncourt Suite

Request morning crowd

Request morning crowd


That evening the fact that we were inside was not as disheartening as it might have been. We were kept nice and cosy inside, but in a room with huge windows allowing glimpses of a midsummer’s evening which reflected our programme perfectly. From ‘Harlem Nocturne’ to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ we weaved our way through every genre our tiny ensemble is capable of and having a whale of a time.


Diane, Freddie, Mark, Michael, Chloë (me), Rick


So now we have two days off ready to do it all again (though with different pieces!) next week. This is my fourth season on the Spa, and I cannot express how much I enjoy it, it really is my home. I could easily mention moments of every member’s playing that has moved and inspired me just this week, but we would be here a very long time. Suffice to say, I never stop counting myself lucky to be playing with such incredible musicians, a fact which I know is not lost on our audience.


Thank you for reading,


Blog No. 12: Did you Winter well?

Hello all,

And as they say traditionally on the Spa, did you winter well? We would like to share with you a snapshot of our lives post-2013 season in preparation for the blogs to come over this, the 102nd, season of the Legendary Scarborough Spa Orchestra.

winter spa

The Spa seems to have survived the winter!


Lisa Featherstone – Double Bass

A very big hello to you all!

It’s really great to be back with Spa Orchestra again this year.

Scarborough holds such lovely, warm memories for me as I used to spend most of my family holidays here as a child (as did my Mum when she was little). Over the last few years she has taken great pleasure in “showing me the sights” of where she used to spend her time. I remember in particular her face lighting up as we climbed aboard the North Bay Railway, Mum waving at the passers by as if she was still the excited little girl on holiday.

I now take great joy in sharing the same sights and experiences with my own son, Milo, and look forward to creating many more happy memories here.

Since hanging up the stripey jacket last year I have been busy juggling work and ‘mummyhood’! It’s tricky at the best of times but have great family at hand to help (thanks Mum and Dad!). Work has included teaching for the Hull Music Service where I tutor young children on the double bass (or mini bass as they are so small) and some really interesting workshops for Opera North. I found these particularly rewarding as the whole idea of the project was to focus on the children’s enjoyment of the music making process rather than the final concert. This then opened up more opportunities for the children to improvise and to be more creative, without the pressure or worry of reading music – it was a completely new experience for me and a real breath of fresh air.

On the playing side of things I have been working with the Hallé Orchestra and most recently the Northern Ballet. An extremely memorable moment was when I had ‘somehow’ managed to book a hotel on the Isle of Wight instead of in Southampton (which is where we were performing)…and I only found this out when I was on my way to check in there at 10pm one night – oops! Needless to say I found somewhere else to stay.

I am very much looking forward to the concerts at Peasholm Park as over the last few years I haven’t yet played for one…and I’ve heard it’s great fun getting the bass on board the boat in order to get over the the bandstand!

I am also hugely looking forward to my little boy visiting lots – making it a wonderful season full of fun anf smiles, with family and friends (oh yes…and with a little bit of work thrown in!).


Mike Gray – Violin

Hello Everyone!

Another Season is here! Sorry not to be there for the start but I know that my deputy will be doing wonderful work in my absence, so thanks Freddie, enjoy.
The BBC has kept me quite busy over the winter, but a few highlights included a small tour with the music of Danny Elfman wich started at the Albert Hall and featured the man himself performing some of the numbers. Danny wrote the music for ‘Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure’, ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ and ‘Batman’ and was really fun to work with. Session work included the soundtrack for ‘The Paradise’ TV series and Southbank concerts went from Frank Zappa’s ‘200 Motels’, to ‘Sondheim Inside Out’ to more traditional programmes. We did the Oliviers. (Wonderful!), Cheltenham Jazz Festival (Brilliant!), a pop music ‘gig’ at the Brixton Academy with a group called Woodkid (Interesting!) and all this around Friday Night Is Music Night, which included  the music of Burt Bacharach, a D Day special and one at Christmas with me leading! Phew.
I was asked by the Education team to record a CD for the ‘Singing for the Brain’ Project which is a great thing to have been involved in. Groups of people with dementia will use the CD for sing-a-longs. The idea is that whilst some have problems with their memory as they get older, people are often able to remember songs from their younger days. It can be a comfort for them as they feel connected to what’s going on and is also a small break for their helpers.
I am still depping on Les Mis when I can, so I still get my West End fix! The reason I will be taking some time off this year, (Thanks Paul), is because the BBC are doing two Operas at Grange Park. This work started before the Spa Season and continues a few days a week until the middle of July. We have wonderful casts and conductors and it’s in a really special setting, so I am lucky to be doing both Operas as well as the Spa! Busy, Busy, Busy. Roll on August where I might actually get a weekend!
I am looking forward to another fabulous Summer in Scarborough and in particular the two concerts in Peasholm Park. My family will be around for one of them and what better way to relax than listen to us on a glorious evening beside the lake with a lovely picnic and fantastic fireworks display?
See you all soon,
Paul Laidlaw – Musical Director, Piano
Hi everyone. It’s great to be back for another great season at the Spa. I’ve had a pretty busy time since we all left last year. In October I directed the Alan Ayckbourn  play “A Chorus of Disapproval” at York. It was really nice that so many Spa regulars came over to see it. Then it was off (literally the next day) for my usual ten week panto season at the Gordon Craig Theatre. I was back in Scarborough for our New Years Day concert – great to see so many people there. Panto finished in early February and I went straight into rehearsal for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Aspects of Love”. Played that in late March (thank you Graham and Kathy for joining me in the orchestra for that) and then, amazingly, it was time to complete the  planning for the 2014 season at the Spa!  So there we are, another busy year. Looking forward to seeing everyone again for more great music-making. Paul
Graham Quilter – Clarinet/Saxophone
Hi everyone, here I am back again for my 27th season, Max Jaffa I’m going for your record (sadly I don’t think I have a chance to match your income, but I live in hope…)Anyway, my out of season highlight, without doubt, was being asked to play the Artie Shaw Clarinet Concerto with Easy (Eastern Area Schools Youth) Jazz Band, in which my twin sons, Adam and Ben, play trombone and drums. I have never been so nervous in my life! Playing for you lot is one thing, but being on the same stage as your sons is something else
again. They played so well, and when it was over, I realised that I might never play a ‘proper’ gig with them again… (cue the sad violins!)Apart from that, every woodwind player in the Scarborough area and beyond (including a certain Chloe Vanns) seems to have dropped their instrument and brought it to me for repair – for which I’m very grateful!My favourite, repair you won’t believe:-10.30pm I received a phone call ‘my son’s saxophone doesn’t work, he has an exam in 2 days, please can I bring it round now?!’
10.45pm the saxophone arrives and the child says ‘I just dropped it accidentally’ so I take it to my workshop to examine and immediately find that one or two things are bent… then three or four things are bent, then five, six and seven things are bent, then I decide to step back and look at the whole sax and realise that the whole thing is bent.
11pm back upstairs I say ‘you didn’t accidentally drop this did you?’ He says ‘No’ defiantly, I say ‘in fact, you threw this on purpose…’ Long silence… more defiance ‘Yes I did, at my sister. She was annoying me!!!’Needless to say, a borrowed sax was used for the exam and I fixed the bent one over the next few days and I’m told that the bill was paid by the offender – aged 12.Quite right too! Quilter sons, take note.Rick Scoates – TromboneOut of season I play trombone for the Northern Ballet.  The highlights of the Ballet Season for me was Great Gatsby. Music by Richard Rodney Bennett.  It had a lot of 1920s music including a spectacular solo for trombone transcribed from an improvisation.  The rest of the part was for a basso profundus trombonicus maximus. So quite a workout and hugely popular and enjoyable.

Another highlight was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which I had to depict a love sick donkey wooing the queen of the fairies. An impossible task you might suppose? Well according to audience response the trusty euphonium gave it’s all twice nightly!  Impossible to top that I thought ; wrong again. I have just been dragooned into playing a Serpent offstage in an opera in Leeds!

I had two short holidays.  Cycling in Lanzarote and Pueblo climbing in Mijas north of Malaga.  I also stage managed some of Rachael’s quartet concerts with a rare deftness of touch I thought! Ha ha !
Anyway.  Highlights aside I then had to drive Southampton to Glasgow in order to start  Scarborough Spa’s season with a spectacular opening night.


Kathy Seabrook – Flute, Piccolo, Saxophone

Hi all, I can’t believe that the Spa Orchestra season has come around again so quickly (is that my age…?!) and I am very much looking forward to playing all summer in the Grand Hall and Spa Suncourt come rain or shine!

I have had a musically marvellous, and very busy, out of season 8 months, taking my own educational ‘Fun Music’ sessions to different
settings all around the East coast area – Whitby, Danby, Pickering, Malton, Norton, Scarborough (of course), Kirkbymoorside, Hackness, Filey…

In case you’re interested (and you must be if you’re reading this!) on average per month, I delivered 12 Children’s Centre sessions, 9 Parent and Toddler sessions, 10 Pre-school & Nursery sessions, 16 Primary School sessions, 4 County Library sessions, 3 parties, and 6 grant aided training sessions. Not to mention the Hull University lectures on Early Years music for post graduates!

This works out that I have taken music to 6,600 children this year (averaging 15 children per music session, and sometimes there were
more!) – If this doesn’t boost our future audiences I don’t know what will!!

Oh yes, and I did do a few gigs too!

Hope you enjoy the season K

P.S. Our three teenage boys have grown so much taller than me now – one doing GCSE’s, two doing sport and music, all costing a fortune in clothes and food! And girlfriends are on the scene…


Diane Stewart – Cello

Hello again. Here’s an update on what’s been happening to me since our last blogs.

When the season finished last September, I went back to freelancing in various orchestras. Unfortunately though, at the beginning of November, en route to do a concert in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the car I was travelling was involved in an accident on the M6. Luckily we were all relatively unhurt, but my poor cello came off worst, sustaining nasty cracks to the bottom rib. This is a major repair involving taking the top off the cello, and repairing the cracks from the inside, replacing even the smallest splinters of wood that were lost in the impact, matching 250 year old varnish and then gluing it all back together. That all took 4 and a half months, so I was limited to what work I could do after that. The eagle eyed among you may have noticed I was playing on a different cello on New Year’s Day, which, luckily I had managed to borrow from a friend, but mine’s back for good now and I’m being VERY careful with it! In the meantime though, I kept busy with teaching and family stuff!

Speaking of family, we managed a lovely family holiday in April, cruising around the Canary Islands, in celebration of mine and Steve’s Silver Wedding Anniversary (I was a child bride!?), and Steve’s 50th Birthday.

And then…before you know it, the season is upon us again. I’m looking forward to playing my own cello again, which I think is sounding better than it did before the surgery! (That was a nice surprise!) I hope we have lots of lovely weather like last season, so that we can play most of our morning concerts outside in the Suncourt, my favourite venue. It will be great to see plenty of familiar faces in the audience and catch up with you all too. I hope you’ve all had a less eventful winter than mine and look forward to seeing you soon.



Chloë Vanns – Bassoon, Clarinet, Saxophone

When I finished the 2013 season, the next thing I had written in my diary was 1st January, 2014 – Spa Orchestra New Years’ Day Concert.  I decamped to my parents’ house as so many of us twenty-somethings have to do these days and made some life decisions!  By the end of September I had made my decision, I would train to be a classroom teacher; I had the PGCE forms printed and a taster week booked in at a school.  However, I had applied for an instrumental teacher’s position in the East Riding of Yorkshire on a whim, and to my great surprise I got the job!  PGCE forms in the bin, I raced to Yorkshire with my Mum to go flat hunting before my job started.  I started in November (flat found in Driffield) and haven’t looked back since.

My job entails teaching children aged 8-18 all woodwind instruments, in fact I had to learn the flute very quickly (cue crash course from Kathy!).  I zip around the East Riding in my new little blue car doing what I love, and what is more, my employers allowed me to accommodate the Spa season in my teaching timetable.  All in all my dream job to match the dream job I already have as bassoonist with the Spa Orchestra.

I am looking forward to the whole season (once the cobwebs have been blown from my instruments..) including the great repertoire we play, the fabulous singers we are lucky enough to work with but most of all I am looking forward to spending the season with 9 incredible musicians I am lucky enough to call my friends.