I’ve been part of the accordion world for six or seven years now; attending accordion classes at Morley College in London, playing in the Morley Accordion Orchestra and going on several accordion holidays to Clacton-on-Sea, Ilfracombe and Ireland. But just when I thought I’d seen all the accordion world had to offer, the ‘Super Orchestra’ came along.
On an unseasonably warm November morning a couple of Saturdays ago, I found myself in Ripley Village Hall preparing for a day of playing alongside 70 other accordionists; a ‘super’ orchestra by anyone’s reckoning! The orchestra brought together members of the Watford, Tillingbourne and Morley Accordion Orchestras. But crucially it also included those who had never before experienced the joys of playing in an accordion orchestra, let alone one of this size.
The day began with rehearsals led by Ian Watson. We were handed three pieces to prepare for a concert to be held later that evening: Marchen Sinfonietta by Rudolf Wurtner, My Heart Will Go On by James Horner and Klezmer in Concert (traditional, arr: G Hummel). It was certainly no mean feat getting 70 of us to listen, play in time and perhaps most importantly ensure we removed our hands from our instruments once the baton was no longer in motion! But by setting ground rules from the outset (in the nicest possible way) and through his characteristic use of humour, Ian made this look effortless.
As the morning progressed we were making a pretty good stab at music we had encountered for only the first time that day. The great thing about the event was that all levels were catered for. Those with little experience were encouraged to join in where they felt able and everyone’s contribution was valued.
But it wasn’t’ all play, play, play. The day was punctuated with breaks, which offered the chance to chat to fellow accordion players over tea or coffee (kindly laid on by David and Irene) or sample one of the home-made cakes donated by members of the Tillingbourne Orchestra. And there was the opportunity to browse stalls selling all manner of accordion paraphernalia, including a wide selection of accordion music and an array of shiny new accordions.
After lunch, events took a theatrical turn, as the stage curtains were dramatically drawn back to reveal the two professional West End drummers whom Ian had engaged to accompany us. An afternoon’s rehearsal with the percussionists and the concert programme was shaping up nicely.
And then came the concert. Glancing around the hall, there were at least as many audience members as performers, all gathered to witness the accordion extravaganza. It was certainly a varied programme, both in terms of the pieces selected and the combinations of players performing.
First up were Watford Accordion Band with MD Shona Holmes. Shona went on to play a duet with fellow band member Dean Evans, their choice of ‘Slave Song’ by Graham Romani particularly apt given that Romani also ran mass accordion days back in the 1980s. Tillingbourne Accordion Orchestra played next, conducted by Phil Wheeler. And not to forget another duo: Ian Watson and Julie North playing Amusante Overture. Morley Accordion Orchestra, conducted by Ian, opened the second half, and then last but definitely not least it was the turn of the Super Orchestra. What a sound 70 accordionists can make! And what a great sense of achievement to go from producing what were initially only tentative offerings to three confident sounding performances, all in the space of a day.
So all in all the day was a great success and is sure to become a regular feature of the accordion calendar.
How many will we attract next year?
The Super Accordion Orchestra Day was organised by Ian Watson and Julie North, with the support of John Cumiskey and Myra Brooks of Guildford Accordion Club. Thanks also go to Shona Holmes, Phil Wheeler, Stephen Best, Trevani and the members of Watford Accordion Band, Tillingbourne Accordion Orchestra, Morley Accordion Orchestra and Guildford Accordion Club. The event raised a massive £800 which will go towards supporting Morley Accordion Orchestra’s trip to the 2013 World Accordion Championships in Innsbruck, Austria.
Report by Alison Briggs
Photos by Tory Dunn