Musical magic in Letchworth
PUBLISHED: 19:30 21 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:55 20 February 2013
An orchestra whose youngest member is 70 years younger than its eldest and a multiple-award-winning operatic society are at the heart of Letchworth Garden City's musical arts scene, as Richard Young discovers
PASS by The Settlement, Letchworths beautiful Arts and Crafts educational centre, every other Sunday and you will be treated to the magical sound of an orchestra in full flow.
Venture into the rehearsal room and you will be greeted by a remarkable group of musicians, aged from 20 to 90, who make up Letchworth Sinfonia.
Formed in 1984, the amateur orchestra has grown to become a much-respected outfit, annually playing major concerts at both New Year and during the summer Letchworth Festival that are hugely popular with music lovers.
Founder member, oboeist and wind section organiser, Ann Parkhouse, says the ethos of the orchestra has always been inclusive and age is absolutely no barrier to playing.
Its open to anyone, aged nine to 90 as long as they can play an instrument, she says. Theyve got to be able to play the notes, otherwise they will stick out like a sore thumb, but there is really no set standard.
We do look for extra players, particularly strings. Often the opportunity for someone to deputise comes along.
Sinfonia secretary and violinist Amanda Taylor joined six years ago after being inspired to pick up the instrument again after hearing the orchestra play.
After not playing the violin since leaving school I went along to one of the New Year concerts and was amazed by the standard of playing.
I joined the orchestra a little rusty
and scratchy but have gained confidence over the years and love performing, she says.
More than 30 amateur musicians from Letchworth, Hitchin, Stevenage, Welwyn and the surrounding villages regularly attend the fortnightly rehearsals, which are conducted by William Norris, a music teacher at St Christophers School in the town.
William took up the baton from founder member and musical director Kerry Camden who sadly died in March last year. Two months earlier he proudly led the orchestra in its 25th anniversary New Year concert at Letchworths Plinston.
This years New Year concert on January 9 againtook place at the Plinston with a festive programme of waltzes, polkas and overtures as well as opera with guest soprano Christine Bunning, who has performed at The Royal Opera House, Sadlers Wells and Glyndebourne.
Musicians who would like to join the sinfonia should call Ann Parkhouse (woodwind and brass) on 01462 686309 or Amanda Taylor (strings) on 01462 625416.
Putting on a song and dance has been the aim of a Letchworth amateur operatic society for nearly 60 years.
Since 1952 Letchworth Arcadians has been entertaining audiences with productions of operettas and classic musicals, such as South Pacific, The Mikado and My Fair Lady.
Today the society is considered one of the best in the region, putting on two shows a year and winning multiple awards in the last decade.
Membership secretary and chorus singer Margaret Dinmore, who has been a member since 1976, says that while the official aim of the society is to engage and educate the public in the dramatic and operatic arts, it is more a case of people doing it for the sheer love of it.
It is like-minded people getting together to do something they really enjoy and in doing so giving pleasure to others as well, she says. Certainly there is a great feeling of camaraderie among the members, new members often remark on what a friendly society we are, and I think this communicates to our audiences.
She adds that the November production of The Merry Widow at The Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage, complete with waltzes, ball gowns and one striking male garment, was well received.
People commented on the professionalism of the production and the vocal prowess of our leading actors. Personally I wont forget the sight of nine men in can-can skirts!
Members come from all walks of life, aged from 16 to over 70, and are involved in all aspects of a production, from singing, acting and dancing, to set design, make-up and production.
Margaret says, All acting members need to take an audition for membership, but we also have a strong band of backstage helpers. In addition we have valued patrons whose support is very much appreciated.
As well as the adult group there is also the multiple-award-winning Young Arcadians, with members as young as ten, who put on a show every year.
These young performers will be in a production of Oklahoma from February 22 to 26 at the Plinston, while the senior Arcadians next show, Little Shop of Horrors, will be at The Gordon Craig Theatre from April 26 to 30.
Both the Letchworth Arcadians and Young Arcadians rehearse weekly at the Norton Methodist Community Centre in the town. To get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org
Five other Letchworth clubs:
Baldock and Letchworth Folk Club meets most Wednesday evenings at The Three Horseshoes on Norton Road for live acoustic sessions of folk and traditional music from around the world. Go to www.madnanny.co.uk
Hydroactive Diving Club is based at Howard Park Corner, with purpose-built diving facilities in Clophill. It caters for all levels of ability. Dive in at www.hydroactive.co.uk
Baldock and District Canoe Club has its home at North Herts Leisure Centre in Letchworth where members meet on Sunday evenings to learn how to canoe and kayak. Find out more at www.thecanoeclub.co.uk
Letchworth Rugby Club. The London Road club is hugely active with mens and womens teams of all ages. Find them at www.pitchero.com/clubs/letchworthgardencityrugbyunionfootballclub
Letchworth Cricket Club. Established in 1905, this friendly club, with the best ladies team in Herts, is open to all who love the game. Go to www.letchworth.play-cricket.com