A Personal History of the Orchestra

This personal history was produced by founder member – Jo Bucklow (with help from others) –  for the 30th Anniversary concert.

I’ve been going to the Djanogly Community Orchestra for more than half my life! In 1988 I saw two paragraphs in the local paper – “is anyone interested in starting a community orchestra?”.  I’d played the flute as a child, and had a fantastic experience of a summer orchestra for children, but not picked the flute up for over 10 years. I was very rusty, and pretty scared, but I’ve been with the orchestra practically every Monday night ever since. 

Duncan Lloyd, Head of Music at Djanogly had students who had no orchestra they could play in, so he decided to create one! All of us fitted into a small classroom, maybe 10 people on the first night.  The orchestra grew gently over the first couple of years, largely through word of mouth and through an event called “Blow the dust off your instrument”.  Duncan created a strong foundation, and growth (we were now around 50 or so) forced us out of the classroom and into a hall.

We formed a committee (I was Chair) and created a constitution to ensure the continuity of the philosophy of providing for people who’d got nowhere else to play, and encouraging those who’d stopped playing their Instrument to take it up again.

Duncan left unexpectedly, and Royden Taylor, a retired musician on holiday from Canada, happened to come to watch rehearsals the very night that Duncan announced he was leaving. He stayed for over a term, travelling up from London every Monday to conduct us and advised us how to choose our next conductor and what to look for. Royden’s support was very significant in helping the orchestra continue.

Around 1992, a sister organisation, the Djanogly Community Choir, was formed and performed a few concerts with the orchestra, but sadly folded a few years later.

The committee then introduced membership fees so that we could employ a conductor, and John Rayfield was the first who got the job and stayed with us till 2013. Others followed including John Watson, Catherine Rose, Clair Franklin, Clym Stock Williams, Mat Davis, and of course, Dan Watson. We have had some guest conductors too for rehearsals, our very own Greg Place, Christine Rayfield, Richard Howarth (Stephen’s brother) and, most notable for some of us, James Lowe who is now a Principal Conductor in his own right. The number of people interested in conducting us is amazing. Their enthusiasm and willingness to travel big distances for the job speaks volumes; it seems that an established amateur orchestras (especially of this scale) is rare, which is heart breaking.

How many people were taught to play an instrument as a child but now, as adults, have a box in the wardrobe with an unplayed instrument in it? This orchestra has been responsible for getting many people back to playing, not just me. This has stimulated the local music industry. Like many other players I’ve had occasional lessons and brought a new instrument, and attended summer schools as a result of the orchestra.  As an orchestra we’ve never had auditions – rather we’ve invited people to come along and try out for four weeks. This has encouraged players who would have been totally put off by a more formal process. Many thanks go to Sir Harry who has supported us well (buying a piccolo, the Timps, helping us build up a music library, providing a rehearsal space and that has enabled us to support and bring music to others.  We’ve encouraged musicians by offering a chance to play concertos with us, including winners of Nottingham Young Musician Of The Year – Isata Kanneh-Mason, Abigail Broughton, and Dominik Batista. We haven’t neglected our regular players, several of whom have composed for us or played concertos with us. We’ve collaborated with choirs, we’ve commissioned and performed orchestral music from young composers- such as Sam Watts who now writes music for TV & film – and given them the opportunity to conduct us, and we’ve worked alongside schools to play with and perform for children. Within the orchestra, lasting friendships have formed. New groups have sprung up – quartets, wind groups, string groups.

Our musical standard has improved.  Initially, we were very amateur! A friend of mine stopped coming to concerts when we improved saying we were no longer entertaining like the Portsmouth Symphonietta, and not good enough to enjoy. He’s returned to concerts since saying we *are* good enough to enjoy! We had disasters in concerts – we re-named the Bartered Bride the Battered Bride when we had to stop and start again because the orchestra fell apart in a performance! Roy Hinton (who took sectionals and conducted the wind section in concerts) stamped his feet like a frightened rabbit to keep us together; and on more than one occasion rehearsal letters were hissed over a confused orchestra to drag us back together during an anarchic performance. On one occasion a soloist was unable to attend at the last minute so we performed Nessun Dorma as a sing-along for the whole audience (it even got an enchore!).    We’ve had strange performance venues – frequently freezing cold churches in winter and a church so dark we had standard lamps on extension leads scattered amongst the orchestra so we could see the music.

As our standard of playing has improved, I’ve seen excellent players coming to us who’ve not played in an orchestra before, and seen them learning the discipline of orchestral playing. It’s very different, and demanding. Even pretty good players might need to be encouraged to just play the first note in every bar until they learn how everything works, and from my first days of playing in a youth orchestra, what struck me as essential is building up players’ confidence, and creating a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere. Djanogly Community Orchestra does this.

Why am I still here after 30 years? The flute is a very popular instrument. I hold the waiting list for flutes to join us – it’s an A4 page of names and phone numbers. I’m incredibly privileged to have this place in the orchestra. The discipline of weekly rehearsals and the pressure of concerts keeps me playing when the pressures of work and life would have led me to drop the flute once more. I don’t have much classical music in my life – playing a piece is like intricately studying it, really getting to know and understand pieces of music. Losing myself through playing music with an orchestra is a priceless, and sadly very rare gift. From its tiny beginnings, I know the orchestra has touched the hearts of many, and I hope it continues to do so for many more .