How the Promenade Concert Orchestra is saving tunes from the past for a new generation

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 July 2020

Conductor Howard Rogerson leading the orchestra in rehearsals

Conductor Howard Rogerson leading the orchestra in rehearsals

Glynn Ward

The conductor of a Morecambe orchestra is keeping historic melodies alive for future generations

The Morecambe orchestra in rehearsalThe Morecambe orchestra in rehearsal

Howard Rogerson is a man on a musical mission. He’s saving music from the past to be enjoyed by audiences now and in the future.

The ‘library’ in the basement of his Morecambe bungalow is full of sheet music collected for almost 50 years. But it doesn’t all gather dust there as Howard is the founder and conductor of the Promenade Concert Orchestra which brings the music alive with four concerts a year at The Platform in Morecambe.

‘It’s wonderful to touch music that has not been played before or for years and to discover these amazing tunes and melodies. It’s social history,’ said Howard.

His collection began in 1971 and within seven years he had enough to establish a Palm Court Concert Orchestra in Leeds, close to his Morley birthplace.

Howard Rogerson (fourth from left) as choir boyHoward Rogerson (fourth from left) as choir boy

When 15,000 sets of music parts all catalogued in copper plate handwriting were discovered at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and put on sale in 1982, Howard bought 120 parts ‘or the music might have disappeared completely, or been shredded’. And the Ted Barham collection he received from distant family took months to sort out. ‘There was about 5ft of music on my garage floor,’ he said.

Howard now owns between 3,000-3,500 sets of mainly light music dating from the 1850s-1950s, including tunes performed by Palm Court orchestras and dance bands. And his collection also features new music commissioned by the Promenade Concert Orchestra including a tango composed by Julian Davies from Lancaster.

Howard’s life has been filled with music since childhood. Both he and his brother were the fourth generation of their family to sing in the church choir and after studying at Manchester Royal College of Music he enjoyed a 45 year career as a clarinettist.

He spent four years with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and played at prestigious venues including the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room and the National Theatre in London. In 1978 he joined the newly formed Opera North in Leeds.

Howard and his wife, the opera singer Valerie Baulard, lived at Langcliffe near Settle before moving to Long Preston which, coincidentally, is now home to the Light Music Society library, originally based in Longridge, which houses about 50,000 sets of musical parts. Howard is a trustee and member of the society.

In the early 1990s Howard first took up the conductor’s baton with Settle Orchestra for Valerie’s production of The Magic Flute and he stayed with them until their 40th anniversary concert in 2007.

After ten years living in Giggleswick, the couple ‘retired’ to Morecambe where, in 2007, he founded the Promenade Concert Orchestra, with musicians from the Morecambe, Lancaster and Kendal areas.

In Morecambe, he’s presented 51 light orchestral concerts and 650 different pieces to 13,500 people and has received the Sunshine Culture Award for cultural services to the resort.

One thing is guaranteed, said Howard: ‘I’ll never run out of music!’

Lockdown has meant the orchestra has cancelled some concerts, but to order a double cd of 34 songs recorded live at previous events, go online to promenadeconcertorchestra.org.uk

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