Really Terrible Orchestra in Scotland

by compound complex 11 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • compound complex
    compound complex

    New York Times
    March 9, 2008
    Op-Ed Contributor
    And the Band Played Badly
    WHY should real musicians — the ones who can actually play their
    instruments — have all the fun?

    Some years ago, a group of frustrated people in Scotland decided that the
    pleasure of playing in an orchestra should not be limited to those who are
    good enough to do so, but should be available to the rankest of amateurs. So
    we founded the Really Terrible Orchestra, an inclusive orchestra for those
    who really want to play, but who cannot do so very well. Or cannot do so at
    all, in some cases.

    My own playing set the standard. I play the bassoon, even if not quite the
    whole bassoon. I have never quite mastered C-sharp, and I am weak on the
    notes above the high D. In general, I leave these out if they crop up, and I
    find that the effect is not unpleasant. I am not entirely untutored, of
    course, having had a course of lessons in the instrument from a music
    student who looked quietly appalled while I played. Most of the players in
    the orchestra are rather like this; they have learned their instruments at
    some point in their lives, but have not learned them very well. Now such
    people have their second chance with the Really Terrible Orchestra.

    The announcement of the orchestra’s founding led to a great wave of
    applications to join. Our suspicion that there were many people yearning to
    play in an orchestra but who were too frightened or too ashamed to do
    anything about it, proved correct. There was no audition, of course,
    although we had toyed with the idea of a negative audition in which those
    who were too good would be excluded. This proved to be unnecessary. Nobody
    like that applied to join.

    Some of the members were very marginal musicians, indeed. One of the
    clarinet players, now retired from the orchestra for a period of
    re-evaluation, stopped at the middle B-flat, before the instrument’s natural
    break. He could go no higher, which was awkward, as that left him very few
    notes down below. Another, a cellist, was unfortunately very hard of hearing
    and was also hazy on the tuning of the strings. As an aide-mémoire, he had
    very sensibly written the names of the notes in pencil on the bridge. This
    did not appear to help.

    At the outset, we employed a professional conductor, which is a must for
    anybody who is reading this and who is already planning to start a similar

    Find somebody who is tolerant and has a sense of humor. The conductor also
    has to be sufficiently confident to be associated with something called the
    Really Terrible Orchestra; after all, it does go on the résumé.

    Our initial efforts were dire, but we were not discouraged. Once we had
    mastered a few pieces — if mastered is the word — we staged a public
    concert. We debated whether to charge for admission, but wisely decided
    against this. That would be going too far.

    So should we go to the other extreme and pay people to come? There was some
    support for this, but we decided against it. Instead, we would give the
    audience several free glasses of wine before the concert. That, it
    transpired, helped a great deal.

    We need not have worried. Our first concert was packed, and not just with
    friends and relations. People were intrigued by the sheer honesty of the
    orchestra’s name and came to see who we were. They were delighted.
    Emboldened by the rapturous applause, we held more concerts, and our loyal
    audience grew. Nowadays, when we give our annual concert at the Edinburgh
    Festival Fringe, the hall is full to capacity with hundreds of music-lovers.
    Standing ovations are two-a-penny.

    “How these people presume to play in public is quite beyond me,” wrote one
    critic in The Scotsman newspaper. And another one simply said “dire.” Well,
    that may be so, but we never claimed to be anything other than what we are.
    And we know that we are dire; there’s no need to state the obvious. How
    jejune these critics can be!

    Even greater heights were scaled. We made a CD and to our astonishment
    people bought it. An established composer was commissioned to write a piece
    for us. We performed this and recorded it at a world premiere, conducted by
    the astonished composer himself. He closed his eyes. Perhaps he heard the
    music in his head, as it should have been. This would have made it easier
    for him.

    There is now no stopping us. We have become no better, but we plow on
    regardless. This is music as therapy, and many of us feel the better for
    trying. We remain really terrible, but what fun it is. It does not matter,
    in our view, that we sound irretrievably out of tune. It does not matter
    that on more than one occasion members of the orchestra have actually been
    discovered to be playing different pieces of music, by different composers,
    at the same time. I, for one, am not ashamed of those difficulties with
    C-sharp. We persist. After all, we are the Really Terrible Orchestra, and we
    shall go on and on. Amateurs arise — make a noise.

    Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the forthcoming novel “The Miracle
    at Speedy Motors.”

  • compound complex
  • Leolaia

    Now you can listen to them for yourself:

  • BurnTheShips

    I hear that due to Bethel downsizing the bOrg is retaining their services for upcoming background music for dramas, and Kingdom Maladies.

  • compound complex
    compound complex

    Thank you, Leolaia, for that great link and, BTS, for your own bit of cheeky humor.

    I know what it's like to be an unemployed WT musician. Canned music cost me my job at the KH. Everyone hated the Really Terrible Theocratic Orchestra on Vinyl.


  • Gopher
    I know what it's like to be an unemployed WT musician. Canned music cost me my job at the KH. Everyone hated the Really Terrible Theocratic Orchestra on Vinyl.

    I too was canned as the piano player at the local King-dumb Hall, and was replaced by the Electric BLIGHT Orchestra.

  • Nosferatu

    It's Florence Foster Jenkins all over again! For those of you who don't know, she's a terrible opera singer. I've got an album and it's just hilarious!

    Now I gotta get the RTO album :)

  • slimboyfat

    That's practically my local church - makes me feel like wandering in for a service if they have such fun.


  • compound complex
    compound complex


    I too was canned as the piano player at the local King-dumb Hall, and was replaced by the Electric BLIGHT Orchestra.

    EBO - how droll! Excellent! I'm sure your congregation hated to see you go, pianistically-speaking.


    I'm going to do a search on Ms. Jenkins. I used to listen many years ago to Anna Russell, an opera singer who took her comedic flair to a new audience, finding great popularity, like Victor Borge.

    Thank you both,


  • compound complex
    compound complex


    Thanks for mentioning that. I felt a longing to be there myself - so unlike the measured and controlled emotion of the KH. I am really OK with flair and spontaneity in church ...


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