The Wairarapa Community Orchestra performingwith combined choirs from St Matthew’s Collegiate, Rathkeale College and Wairarapa College. PHOTO/SUE THOMSON
From well-seasoned musicians to those still learning their instruments, members of the Wairarapa Community Orchestra are from all walks of life, coming together under the watchful eye of conductor Ruth Eckford with a simple goal – to play music together. Times-Age reporter, and clarinettist, ELISA VORSTER provides an insider’s view of a group with a passion for sharing music with the community.
I had just returned to playing my clarinet after a 10-year hiatus, a few months before moving to Wairarapa.
I told a friend in Auckland I would be more motivated to play if I had people to play with.
It turned out my friend’s dad is Masterton’s Ten O’Clock Cookie Bakery and Cafe owner John Kloeg, and the first thing he said when I met him was, “so, I hear you play the clarinet”.
He convinced me to go along and play with him in the Wairarapa Community Orchestra. While I was excited, I was way out of my comfort zone.
Every week I was petrified the other members would realise I wasn’t as good as them and I would be exposed as a fraud.
I became pretty good at sitting in the back row and just moving my fingers while trying to figure out which part we were up to.
But my stubbornness meant every week I practised the same bars of music over and over and by the time our first concert came around, I was able to play all my parts.
Fast forward four years and I’ve moved up the ranks in the clarinet section.
I still need to practise my part over and over just to sound as good as some of the others who play perfectly on their first attempt, but I wouldn’t trade my place in the orchestra for anything.
I’m really looking forward to our next concert on April 6 at the Wairarapa College Hall because it will feature some of the orchestra’s favourite pieces of the past 15 years and will include players from various schools who are learning instruments.
Ruth Eckford is celebrating her 15th year as the orchestra’s conductor, but said it was the many musicians who made the group what it was.
“Over the years, experienced musicians have given freely of their time and expertise to come and play with us and to support areas where we may not have a player,” Eckford said.
“We have lawyers, students, overseas tutors, an au pair, teachers, an architect, an egg farmer, a baker, a builder and probably a candlestick maker.”
She said the group had evolved from the ‘Just In Time’ orchestra set up by Justin Pearce.
When Pearce returned to Wellington in 2004 the orchestra became a night class at Makoura College.
The night classes were later cut and the group of 15 to 20 musicians needed a new venue for rehearsals and concerts.
Kloeg offered the Ten O’Clock Cookie Bakery and Cafe, which prompted the orchestra’s signature ‘Coffee, Cake and Classics’ series. The group continued to rehearse and perform there until this year when Chanel College provided a bigger venue.
“We are now a group of 35 to 40 and have performed in Kuranui College, Wairarapa College and Rathkeale College.
“We have featured local students, such as Thomas Nikora, and welcome anyone to come and join us.”
From roadie to cellist
In 2013 Chris Martin got bored with lending his van to transport music stands for the orchestra’s concerts and decided to learn to play the cello.
“The orchestra was pretty small so I asked Ruth which instrument I should play and she said ‘we need more cellos’. So I bought a cello.”
He started getting lessons from ex-New Zealand Symphony Orchestra player Vicki Jones and six months later, he was playing in the community orchestra.
“I wrote the fingering out on every note, and just didn’t play some stuff,” Martin said.
Since then, he’s seen the orchestra grow from around 15 people and became chairman of the recently formed orchestra committee to help keep everything organised.
He said the best part about the orchestra is playing with other people.
“Playing in the lounge is not that appealing.
“If it weren’t for the orchestra, my cello would probably stay in its case the whole time.”
He said learning an instrument as an adult was no mean feat, but that shouldn’t put people off.
“You’re never too old, it just takes more effort.
“I fully recommend it – you just have to try hard.”
Leading from the front
Donna Watt has been playing with the orchestra almost as long as it has been around.
The highly-experienced violinist has played the instrument since she was six, performing with the Wellington youth orchestra, the national youth orchestra, and the Wellington symphonia.
A lawyer by day, she also holds a Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in violin performance.
Watt’s experience makes her ideal for her role as the orchestra’s concertmaster, meaning she makes sure everyone is in tune before performing, and helps convey the conductor’s messages.
“Because I sit closest to the conductor, I have that really close connection, so I have to ensure that radiates out, especially through the strings,” she said.
“I see it as a really special place.”
Her stand-out memories with the orchestra are playing the theme from War of the Worlds, and the concerts the group performed for young children.
She said her biggest enjoyment came from performing with the other musicians,
“It’s the enjoyment of being together with a group of people who make music together.
“You don’t have to be a good player to enjoy the music.
“If you’ve got an instrument you were once good at playing, joining the orchestra is good motivation to get it out again.”
Student stepping up
When Year 12 Solway College pupil Charlotte Gooding joined the orchestra, the brass section consisted of just two trumpets and a tuba.
Although the saxophone is a woodwind instrument, Gooding’s part was adapted to help fill a gap and she diligently played her instrument to ‘sound like a horn’ when told to.
She had only been playing for three years before joining the mainly adult orchestra, but quickly slotted in to the group she described as “sort of like family”.
“It was a lot of pressure but everyone helped,” she said.
She said playing in the orchestra helped her improve her playing and built her confidence.
Her favourite thing about being involved is dropping her books and playing with other people.
“It’s cool, I love it.
“It gets my mind off stuff and when you play with a group you have fun.
“If you stuff up, you get over it and everyone supports you.”
The Wairarapa Community Orchestra next performs on April 6, at the Wairarapa College hall.