The School Orchestra

Does anyone remember the school orchestra which got underway in 1967 when I was in the 1st year? Like many other pupils, I had an initial enthusiasm for this and persuaded my parents to fork out £8 for a violin, which was the cheapest instrument you could buy to become a member of the orchestra. I think the type of instrument a pupil had related to how well off mummy and daddy were; violins and violas were most prominent, then trumpets, trombones, flutes, and clarinets which were more expensive, and I remember one boy had a cello which was larger than him. There was also the odd tuba and French horn, but no sax's. When I broke the bridge of my violin-twice, Pete Byrne said there was no local shop that could repair it, and said I'd have to go to a shop in Southall to get it fixed. That was an eye-opening trip for me as a 13 year old.

I soon got bored with it all mainly because of the bain of having to practice every night with a minimum recommended time of half an hour. I remember Pete Byrne gave up teaching the formal weekly lessons in school and got some guy in called Peter Trory (I still remember his name as it was similar to mine) to take over the lessons. I remember my dad was not pleased when I said I wanted to jack it in, as £8 was a lot of cash in those days. Still I was relieved in the end to get rid of it. I still remember the four strings on the instrument in ascending order: G, D, A, E.
(John T 66-71)

There wasn't a lot of love lost between Byrne and Trory (and vice versa). Just as Tufnell is supposed to have only been interested in fellow thespians, Byrne had strong favouritism for boys who were er ... really into their instruments. There was a boy called Parker who got through his Joachim's violin practice book in a couple of weeks, much to Byrne's delight. You've hit the nail on the head about this school orchestra thing, in mentioning the need for practice every night. The demands of an hour's journey home from school, homework and having some kind of out-of-school life meant that, for twelve-year-olds, only the really committed were ever going to get the longer-term a benefit of musical instrument. I don't suppose people like Byrne would even comprehend this as, for him classical music wasn't an alternative recreation but life itself.

Three years later, just before the freezing Christmas of 1970 I traded-in my violin for a Harrington jacket, just as everyone else was buying Crombies. A metaphor for life. Regards Betamax Man.
(Paul Gibbens 66-71)

I was in it!!! Right up until I left in 1973, having bought a viola in 1967 as you say. The viola teacher I had for all that time was none other than The Penguin himself, Mr Byrne. I practised less and less as time went on, but because I was the only viola player in the orchestra, I felt obliged to continue.

Once, we were in rehearsal, I was pretending to play my instrument, but with the bow above the strings. I got quite good at this trick, especially when my bow was moving in the same direction as all the violins. Byrne stopped the orchestra playing and looked right at me. What I dreaded was that he would ask me to play the section of music on my own. Instead, he barked, `itís quite clear people have not practised this piece from last week! The only player that seems to have improved is the viola!` I tell you what - I must have been crap the week before!

I did have some interest in the instrument, it has to be said. I put an electric pick up on it when I left school, and tried to play along to East of Edenís JIG-A-JIG, but wasnít quite good enough. My viola last saw the light around 1975.
(Martin Williams 66-73)

By the way I always thought the flute was preferable as you dribbled onto the lap of the person sitting to your right (the clarinettist) rather than into your school bag as the rest of the wind section did.
(Tim Woolford-Smith 64-71)

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