A Short History of the Congleton Youth Orchestra
It all began with a casual conversation between Mark Wasserberg (then Head of Dane Valley High School - now Eaton Bank School) and Helen Chappel during a parents' evening. Mark was the inspiration behind it all, but both had the same dream, i.e., a youth orchestra for Congleton and the surrounding areas. The rest, as they say, is history.
With initial funding from the Rotary Club of Congleton and the Congleton Inclosure Trust, wheels were set in motion for the first auditions. The Inaugural Concert took plce in St. Peter's Church, Congleton, on Friday 24th March 1995 under the Baton of temporary conductor Mr. Frank Hall, who had previously conducted Beresford's Band which, unfortunately, no longer exists.
The first permanent Musical Director appointed iin 1995 was John Teague, whose wife Donna was also the first string tutor. He was replaced in 1997 by Matthew Swann, who was a post-graduate at the royal Northern College of Music. Matthew became very popular with the musicians and there were some damp eyes when he had to re-locate to London with his wife. He taught the musicians the elements of Samba and they boogied their way around the streets of Congleton on a very colourful float during the parade of the 1998 Congleton Carnival. He was followed by Philip Robinson, another graduate from Manchester and an ex-pupil of Chethams School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music.
A milestone in the life of the orchestra was the appointment of Martin Hardy who was an Internationally respected conductor. Originally Principal Bassoonist with the Halle Orchestra, he moved into conducting in the early 1980's. He was appointed Musical Director of the C.Y.O. in 1999 and conducted the orchestra for their 5th Birthday Concert at Trinity Methodist Church on 20th November of that year. Tragically after only three months with the C.Y.O. he was taken ill on a scheduled orchestral tour of America and died on 6th February 2000. He was replaced by Harold Gurden who was a tutor at the City of Stoke on Trent Music School. Simon Ward was appointed in January 2001 on a 3 month temporary contract, but quickly made his mark and became very popular with both musicians and audiences alike and was offered the post on a permanent basis. After four happy years, he decided to hang up his baton due to pressures of work. He was replaced in December 2005 by Eddie Garrard who has continued to develop and improve the orchestra. Eddie retired on 19th March 2016 and was replaced by Miles Haslam who took up his post on 1st April 2016.
Wanda Johnson joined the team as String Tutor in 1997 and retired in 2012. Assistant String Tutor Jayne Walker was appointed to take over in 2012.She then moved to Borneo to take up a teaching appointment. but we are delighted that she has returned to take up the reigns once more. The training groups of young string players are valuable sources of string musicians feeding into the senior orchestra.
Judith Hearson, the woodwind tutor, is responsible for the brass/wind players and also runs a training group prior to the senior orchestra's rehearsal time. She has a good rapport with the musicians with lots of giggles being heard from the rehearsal room.
The special relationship with the Rotary Club of Congleton is vital to the future stability of the orchestra and is very much appreciated by the Trustees. The Rotary Club is also pro-active in hosting a Concert each year, the income from which goes towards the orchestra's running costs.
Each year the orchestra gives at least three concerts, and over the years some of the venues have been slightly different with visits to Little Moreton Hall and Tatton Park adding a little variety. Both the local High Schools regularly host performances. There have also been visits to Congleton Town Hall, Sandbach Town Hall, St. Mary's Church in Alsager and Congleton War Memorial Hospital, plus a visit to Congleton Carnival.
In May 1997 the Orchestra was fortunate enough to succeed in a joint Lottery Grant application to the Arts Council of England with Congleton Brass (who later disbanded). This enabled us to purchase quality violins, violas, bass clarinet, piccolo, cor anglais, clavinova and percussion items, allowing us to begin our peripatetic loan service free of charge to all members. This was enhanced with a successful grant applications to the HBOS Foundation with which we have purchased two Trombones, a Euphonium, French Horn and Bassoon. Congleton Town Council also provided funding to enable us to purchase a full size Cello for a member who had outgrown our lottery purchased 3/4 sized Cello.
Over the years many of our musicians have had opportunities to perform solos at our Concerts and we have seen them develop into fine musicians, some of them going on to the Royal Northern College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music in London and Chetham's School of Music. Since 1994 it is estimated that over 300 young musicians have been given the opportunity to play music of all genres and give public performances of a consistently high quality.
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Congleton Youth Orchestra is a Registered Charity- Number 1071130
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