Jane Whittle, founder and managing director of The film Orchestra, talks us through an eventful return to rehearsing and performing for her group.
With the easing of restrictions in the autumn of 2020, there was a window of opportunity for our orchestras and bands to get back to socially-distanced rehearsals. Unfortunately, some of our rehearsal venues proved too small, but we were able to move the bands around. Tremendous thanks should be given for the great service Making Music has provided in interpreting the ever-changing government guidelines.
For the 50-piece flagship film Orchestra, The Elms School in Malvern stepped in to offer their theatre as a rehearsal space and permanent home. We are lucky enough to have Marie Roberts-Watkins, a health and safety professional and leader of The film Orchestra, on hand to overseeing our risk assessments: a job which initially seemed so daunting. We have also been able to make extra use of the acoustic shields bought to protect the hearing of our musicians; they now double up as additional protection against the spread of Covid in rehearsals.
'We crammed in weekend socially-distanced live rehearsals as soon as we were able to, and even managed to hire Dario Marianelli’s Oscar-winning suite from the Atonement soundtrack and source a mechanical typewriter from one of our young English literature students - who then had to give instructions to the percussion section on how to use it!'
2021 has seen new concerts in planning, only to be cancelled as the pandemic rolls on and restrictions remain. TfO Community Orchestra, Stratford has unfortunately folded, as it was not able to resume live rehearsals at its venue and musicians have drifted away. The film Orchestra itself has expanded during lockdown to 60+ players, with new musicians now travelling up to two-and-a-half hours to make rehearsals.
Eventually an opportunity arose to perform at Stokesay Court, one of the principal locations of the 2007 Oscar-winning film Atonement. We took a gamble on all restrictions being lifted as planned on 21 June and prepared for performance on 27 June. We crammed in weekend socially-distanced live rehearsals as soon as we were able to, and even managed to hire Dario Marianelli’s Oscar-winning suite from the Atonement soundtrack and source a mechanical typewriter from one of our young English literature students - who then had to give instructions to the percussion section on how to use it!
Performing at Stokesay Court with conductor David Curtis
Then the announcement came on 14 June that all restrictions were not to be lifted the following week. Three days of frantic phone calls followed. Our marquee supplier was forced to pull out as he had to lay off staff due to the cancellation of all other events. Without a marquee, we could not perform. The weather looked bleak and we needed protection from the elements for our instruments and music, if not our musicians! Quotes came in for replacement marquees way over budget. The advice was to cancel, but the emotional commitment to putting this concert on was too great. Our musicians wanted, even needed to perform. Our audience to hear live music again. Come hell or high water, we had to go ahead!
'The film Orchestra has returned, bigger and better than ever with concerts, events and even a 'Conduct John Williams' workshop in the diary for the next 18 months!'
Luckily, we found a replacement supplier, negotiated a price we could just about afford, and got on with it! With social distancing, even the 8mx20m covering was not enough, so members offered to chip in for an arrangement of semi-detached gazebos in front of the marquee. We played ‘The Great Escape’ as our opening piece and it was blooming marvellous! The wind kept gusting up the hill, the musicians were freezing, and the music kept flapping under the pegged-down music stands… but The film Orchestra has returned, bigger and better than ever with concerts, events and even a 'Conduct John Williams' workshop in the diary for the next 18 months! We have since evaluated and restructured the whole TfO project and decided to focus on developing orchestral playing, while TfO bands continue to flourish at their own pace.
Has your group recently returned to in-person rehearsals? Get in touch and let us know how you went about things!