Royal Wootton Bassett Orchestra celebrates 40th anniversary

By Jessica Durston - 19 August 2022

CommunityArts and Culture

The Royal Wootton Bassett Orchestra will be celebrating 40 years of music making with an Anniversary Concert this October.

The concert will take place on 8 October at 7.30pm, in St Bartholomew and All Saints Church, Royal Wootton Bassett.

During the first half of the concert members of the orchestra will perform solos which include, Mozart Clarinet Concerto - Movement 2, Ladies in Lavender (Flute solo), Mendelssohn Nocturne (French Horn solo).

The second half of the concert will include a variety of music ranging from well-known classics such as Grand March(Aida) and Hadyn’s Symphony 104, Ist movement to Oklahoma and Jurassic Park.

The orchestra team say each piece has been chosen to reflect the changing face of the group across the decades. All the pieces were favourites during one of the orchestra's decades.

Tickets are £10 for adults (with under 16’s going free) and are available through the group's website:

Founded in 1982 by Norman Cork - who was at that time Head of Music at Wootton Bassett School - the orchestra is now one of the longest established amateur orchestras in the area.

Over 40 years the orchestra has performed more than 120 concerts in a variety of local venues including Malmesbury Abbey, RWB Memorial Hall, Swindon's Wyvern Theatre, Swindon’s Old Railway Museum and numerous local churches.

Five of the orchestra's current members have been in the group since its early beginnings in the school music room.

Phil Hewer (violin) was leader of the orchestra for many years as well as taking on many other roles such as Chairman and Secretary.

Now in his eighties, Phil started learning the violin when he was 8 years old.

He said: "The orchestra has “kept him mentally alert and physically fit. I’m really chuffed that RWB, which is not a big place, now possesses a really good orchestra. I’m proud to be part of that. The orchestra has given me lots of enjoyment and introduced me to lots of different people from all walks of life. Music is a great leveller.”

Phil also actively recruited other members, one of these being Bernard Norman (violin), who worked with him at British Rail and who sat beside him in 1st violins for many years.

Bernard said: “The orchestra has always been a very friendly group. People are very happy in each other’s company. It’s marvellous that the age of members ranges from school age to those of us in our eighties. 

"The orchestra gives me the opportunity to play with other people and I enjoy the rehearsals as much as the performances. It’s an opportunity to mix with people of similar interests. I feel optimistic about the orchestra’s future.”

Sisters, Gill Woodward (Flute and Piccolo) and Angie Watson (Cello) are also founder members of the orchestra.

Angie was a sixth-former at Wootton Bassett School and playing in the school orchestra when Norman Cork recruited her, while Gill had just become too old for Swindon Young Musicians and was looking for somewhere else to play.

Gill commented: “I like playing in the orchestra, it’s a friendly group and there’s a good variety of music which always includes one or two more challenging pieces.

"The orchestra is a great asset to RWB. It’s very commendable that such a small town has had an orchestra for so long.”

Angie said: “The orchestra becomes a community – a little community of players and there’s something nice about that.”

Martyn Joyce (Violin), RWBO’s current Chairman, remembers joining the orchestra as a 12 year-old and said he  felt a bit intimidated and anxious about playing with adults – but not for long.

He added: “The orchestra brings people together from all walks of life and all ages. Through the ups and downs of life the orchestra ticks away as a really nice constant. It’s a mindful experience that you share with other people.”

Claire (Flute), Martyn’s wife (and yes members of the orchestra played at their wedding) agrees with Martyn.

She said: “When you get there and start playing you’re in the zone and whatever else is going on you forget it.”

Martyn added: “In the pandemic those of us who carried on rehearsing over Zoom gained a lot from it and it helped us through.”

The orchestra members say there’s no doubt that in 40 years, and under the baton of seven different musical directors, the group has improved.

Martyn said: “Musically every musical director we’ve had has brought something different to the orchestra and when they leave a little bit of them stays – some quality they’ve imparted.

"We’re improving all the time, finding more musicality in our playing and there are now more regular members than ever before. The future looks good but we’d love to have even more people join, especially string players.”

Nicola Ashton, RWBO’s Musical Director also said the following statement: “RWBO is an incredibly friendly and welcoming orchestra. From my first rehearsal it's been clear how much everyone enjoys making music. The orchestra has a lovely mix of players who have a long history with the orchestra alongside newer members, which brings great experience and energy.

"RWBO is also a fantastically versatile orchestra, equally at home playing big symphonies, film music, light classics and more modern pieces. I've loved getting to know the orchestra and thoroughly enjoy the sense of both hard work and fun which everyone brings to rehearsals. 

"For our 40th anniversary, we wanted to celebrate the players and the history of the orchestra. In the first half, we'll hear from soloists and groups within the orchestra, spotlighting a fantastic range of talents while in the second half we've looked to reflect the changing style of the orchestra over the last 40 years.

"RWBO has a fantastic future ahead. The orchestra is back to full strength after the pandemic and we're looking forward to exciting times over the next year. We have plans to run workshops, to build exciting programmes with a mix of genres, styles and challenges - and most importantly, to keep enjoying our music making together. We welcome new players - come and join us, you will find a very warm welcome.” 

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