Salford Family Orchestra - BBC Philharmonic

PUBLISHED: 18:33 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:10 20 February 2013

The families celebrate outside the Royal Albert Hall. Photo courtesy of Chris Christodolou

The families celebrate outside the Royal Albert Hall. Photo courtesy of Chris Christodolou

The BBC Proms attract world famous musicians but a group of unknowns from Lancashire also made a big noise at the Royal Albert Hall. Susan Mackean reports

You are about to walk on stage at the Royal Albert Hall to perform in front of an audience of 5,000. You are taking part in the world's most prestigious music festival, the BBC Proms. You may never have played an instrument in public before and you have only had a few intense rehearsals to prepare. Depending on your mindset it's the stuff of dreams or of nightmares, but it was reality for more than 70 musicians from Salford.

They are all part of the Salford Family Orchestra (SFO), a brand new ensemble created by the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic in partnership with the BBC Proms. The idea is to give family members the chance to play music together alongside some of the BBC's finest musicians.

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and was one of the highlights for families in the BBC Proms' 100-concert season.
The SFO is for all musical abilities, from absolute beginners to the advanced. They joined forces with a similar group from London to perform a short new work called the The Rough Guide to the Proms Family Orchestra, with words by the Barnsley poet Ian McMillan, who is an English professor at the University of Bolton.

The BBC Philharmonic announced its plans to set up the SFO as part of its partnership with Salford City Council ahead of BBC North's move to MediaCity in 2011.

Families from all over Salford responded enthusiastically, resulting in an ensemble of more than 70 music devotees aged from 5 to 81. The Sharples from Swinton were just one of the many to sign up. Mum Kay plays clarinet, Georgia plays oboe and 12-year-old Joe was on trombone.
Kay admitted to some pre-concert nerves. 'I've not played for about 30 years, so this has made me pick the clarinet up again which is great. I was a bit nervous, but the kids loved it.'

Joe first met the BBC Philharmonic when some players visited his school, Swinton High, last year. He is a real enthusiast and can turn his hand to the bassoon as well as the trombone, but he chose brass this time. 'It's really good playing with professionals,' he said. 'You copy them and learn from what they do, which is brilliant.'

Rehearsals started on a hot Sunday afternoon in April at Swinton High. BBC Philharmonic musicians Frances Pye (violin), Mark Jordan (clarinet), Peter Willmott (double bass) and Paul Turner (percussion) joined forces with top musicians from the BBC Proms team, all led by Family Orchestra Director, Lincoln Abbotts.

Over the course of seven intense sessions Lincoln worked with the entire group, composing 'on the hoof' to produce the 10 minute piece, which had classical and jazz influences, with a catchy melody and a stirring choral line.

Conventional orchestral instruments - strings, wind and brass - mixed with the non-classical sounds of sitar, accordion and a huge euphonium-like instrument called a sousaphone, all complemented by a 30 strong choir.

The younger members of the SFO would have been forgiven for flagging under the pressure. Ann and Roy Bowes, from Worsley, joined up with their five children Steven, Anthony, Esther, Kris and Adam. Ann, who played percussion, said: 'The rehearsals were all relaxed and fun and the kids loved every minute. The whole thing has given them confidence, and something to really look forward to.'

Attending the BBC Proms was a special milestone. 'It was an emotional moment for me. I trained as an opera singer when I was younger and paid for lessons myself but had to give it up. So all these years later, to perform on stage at the Royal Albert Hall was really special.'

Single Mum Alison Ormrod, from Monton near Eccles, played percussion alongside her violinist daughter Lucy, aged seven. 'I thought Lucy would be shy but she's so confident. I love the way we can do this together and it makes Lucy look at me in a different way. I'm not just a taxi service, I'm a person in my own right,' Alison said.

Nimishi Alango, who had a starring role with her sitar solo, stayed remarkably cool throughout. 'I actually wasn't that nervous,' said the 14-year-old. But mum Padma is visibly proud, and thrilled that her other two children Thajeus, five, and Agni, 11, were also involved.

Martin Maris of the BBC Philharmonic said: 'As the BBC strengthens its links in Salford, the Family Orchestra project presents an amazing opportunity for anyone who loves music to play alongside world class musicians in top venues. The Proms date was only the start of our journey, and we are already planning the next event.'

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