There are no concerts planned at present but there are always prospective projects and ideas being floated about.

When we do perform, there are only three, maximum four, rehearsals before a concert. We try to have at least one initial evening rehearsal, then a 10.30am-5.30pm Sunday rehearsal and an afternoon rehearsal on the day of the concert. Because of the shortness of available time, to maximise rehearsals bowed music is sent out in advance as much as possible and downloads recommended for wind and brass. The conductor coordinates with section leaders, who are invited to talk to their sections before the rehearsal process starts to coordinate part splitting, divisi, covering lines and key bits of contentious breathing. Rehearsal and concert parking is arranged only for harps and percussion. There is no porterage paid and no pay or expenses is given to anyone participating, at all, including conductors, soloists, random percussionists and administrators. The venues, venue staff, music, instruments, lighting and staging are hired at much lowered rates or, preferably, no fee at all where humanly possible.

All performers are personally invited to play based on how they perform in other orchestras already. Most are friends and colleagues of existing players who are regarded to be at the top of their musical game at this stage in their lives. However, none of the orchestra’s members are invited to participate on the basis it will enhance their careers and anyone wanting CV fodder is not invited. Enquiries from new players are always welcome and every effort is taken to get back to those that make enquiries. However, there is generally one email a week from a flautist and unless someone has extensive experience of orchestral playing already, it is not really possible to provide the desired solution (except maybe we need to set up a flutes-only band…)! Participants are chosen for their enthusiasm and ability to play the music they love with people as enthusiastic and as good as them, along with their wish to support the chosen charity and see a tangible outcome for their efforts. The main thing that precludes a selected player from actually participating is being unable to attend all required rehearsals prior to a performance. There are slightly different rules if you are a heavy-duty orchestral pro from one of the top bands, are keen to back the charity being supported, love the rep on offer, and can reliably be helicoptered in for the last rehearsal, but we are very careful who we let do this so that the rest of the orchestra is not disrupted. It has to be someone they already really like and want to play with, not someone who they feel is in for the ride. We can only really helicopter into the back of the strings now, and some doubling or bumping and random percussion, but none of the main wind or brass section principals.

The interval musicians are chosen for their fit to the country of cause, their willingness to support the chosen charities, and their ability to realise they are background music whilst everyone makes a racket meeting up and drinking and making further cash donations. However, none of the interval musicians to date have been shy, retiring, wall flowers but have got the audiences involved in whatever they are playing or singing (eg. singing three part Tibetan folk songs), cementing the cultural celebratory nature of each performance whilst keeping it focused on the supported charity. These extended intervals also enable the orchestra actually to make contact with their supporters and enjoy themselves before getting back onto the stage. So you will find the first half of a concert is fairly short, the interval expansive, and the second half longer. The interval musicians also play before the concert whilst the audience comes in and play the audience out as well whilst we are packing up, so the atmosphere doesn’t drop flat. We get more donations that way!

Catering is obligatory for everyone and is provided before, during and after rehearsals to keep participants fed and watered and happy. Original rehearsal catering revolved around Green & Blacks organic biscuits and organic Earl Grey tea, but as more providers have offered support, we now get in excellent sandwich plates and curries delivered, entire cakes and other nice things. Unfettered sustenance is seen as a key ingredient to thanking the orchestra for their extraordinary unpaid time and effort. The aftershow parties are also vital ways of saying thank you to the performers and back office volunteers in a tangible way. The food is free and there is a tab with a high ceiling! In the past we’ve enjoyed an excellent range of baked sausages and chips, a couple of pizza blow outs, and a mega curry session. Non-combatants can buy tickets to come to the aftershow party, so no one needs to feel left out.