Orchestra from Scratch

Impressions (c) Johnathan Andrews

If I asked you to conjure up an image of someone who plays classical music, an orchestral player, my guess is you’d come up with a picture that looked something like this – someone slightly serious, a bit bookish, perhaps. Maybe they’d be pale, from staying indoors too much, practising. Maybe they’d be slightly staid and old-fashioned.

But what struck me this afternoon, as a delighted audience member at Richard Cock’s ‘Orchestra From Scratch’, where the Junior Teenager was playing Second Violin, was that so few of the players there fitted any kind of stereotype of what a classical musician might look like.

There in the hall were 150 amateur musicians, thrown together for just a day. In the violins was a woman in shorts and slops, lean and lithe, with arms that suggested she might do some bodybuilding in her spare time. In the cellos was a blonde, ruddy oke you might expect to see swilling beer at a braai. A viola-playing teenage boy with trendy glasses and an even trendier hairstyle tapped his sneaker-shod foot to Offenbach. At the harp, was an ethereal creature with russet ringlets and flowers in her hair. There were hipsters and paunchy old men, teenagers and grandmothers, and skin tones from palest ivory all the way through to dark chocolate.

They’d practised the programme beforehand and after just a couple of hours together, performed to an audience of family members and friends.

Sitting practically on top of the strings, enveloped in that thrumming sound, I reflected that this is what music should be. Of course, we have superb professional musicians who are accomplished and wonderful and we should support them wholeheartedly, because they bring beauty and joy to our lives. But there’s also something special and life-affirming about a group of amateurs who gather like this, united only by a score and their love for music, for the opportunity to be in an orchestra for an afternoon, and to play for the sheer joy of it.

And there’s something so magical – whether you’re singing or playing in a big ensemble – about that moment when, after all the practising, all the parts come together and you hear the full sound in all its complexity for the first time.

This is the way to democratise music. This is the way to remove the idea that art is for professionals, for those who’ve achieved some sort of commercially acceptable standard only.

And it’s this: to simply say, “Come. It doesn’t matter that you’re an amateur, or that you miss a note here or there. Just come. Bring your instrument. Bring your love for a tune and a stomping beat. Let’s play, and let’s make a beautiful noise till our souls are restored.”

‒ Mandy Collins