In 2001 Ron Bell, an amateur bassoon player conceived of the idea of a new orchestra for similar musicians in the St Albans area. It was to be a rehearsal orchestra which would bring people together to play for the enjoyment of doing so without having the demands of a programme of public concerts. He appointed a young, dynamic conductor Justin Doyle and early in 2002 around 30 people gathered at the St Albans Music School to form the new orchestra and play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Handel’s Water Music.
The concept of a rehearsal orchestra encouraged a variety of players to come together. Some were just keen for a new opportunity to play with like minded people. For others it was the chance to start playing again after years of not doing so, without too much pressure, and some were highly accomplished musicians playing their second (or third) instrument. The idea worked well and the orchestra quickly went from strength to strength increasing to 40 plus members who enjoyed playing a wide repertoire.
After the first couple of years the orchestra moved to a new venue at Mid Herts Centre for Music & Arts in Hatfield, but decided to keep its original name.
Ron believed passionately in the concept of a rehearsal orchestra and the freedom that brought to music making, but at the same time he recognised the importance of introducing variety to give purpose to its music making and enhance members’ enjoyment. His concept also envisaged SARO appointing young, professional conductors in the early stages of their careers. Not only to give them an opportunity, but so that SARO could benefit from the connections they had with other young professional musicians.
These two ideas were fundamental to the concept of SARO and have proved to work well, leading to a large number of different activities. Sometimes providing variety to the weekly sessions by bringing in a professional musician to allow the orchestra to play a concerto, or a student conductor to practice their craft, or local singers joining for a 'Come and Sing' event.
To allow more time to explore works in depth away days were organised and longer weekend house parties at residential centres provided lots of opportunities to play in different sized groups as well as to socialise. The orchestra took part in Making Music’s Adopt-a-Composer scheme, working with composer Paul Fretwell and Skyswood Primary School. The composition Water Music was recorded by Radio 3 and excerpts subsequently broadcast.
From early on an important part of SARO’s work has been community outreach with local infant and primary schools. Two or three times a year the orchestra will visit a school. These visits have proved extremely popular giving the children the opportunity to hear a symphony orchestra play live music, to join in with the music in different ways and even, for the lucky few, to try their hand at conducting.
In all this SARO has been led by its musical directors each of whom expertly continued the founding principles. Justin was followed by William Carslake who took the reins for a number of years and was in turn succeeded by Ben Goodson.
As SARO approaches its third decade, our current conductor Matthew Hardy has kept SARO going with weekly sessions on Zoom. This has allowed the majority of members to keep playing together, albeit slightly differently, during the pandemic. The initial idea for this different type of orchestra conceived back in 2001 continues to work and thrive whatever comes along.
Some important people
These people have had a big impact on the orchestra over the last two decades.
Adopt A Composer
In 2009 SARO was chosen as one of six amateur ensembles to be chosen for the Making Music Adopt a Composer project. The orchestra was paired with composer Paul Fretwell who created a new piece entitled By The Sea, specifically for SARO and children from Skyswood Primary School.
The premiere of the new piece was given by SARO and the children at the Sandpit Theatre in St Alban’s and was recorded by BBC Radio 3.
In February 2016 SARO held a 'Come and Sing' event to perform selected extracts from Handel's Messiah. the choir rehearsed in the morning and the event culminated in a performance with orchestra in the afternoon.
The orchestra organises regular away days and weekends, allowing for longer rehearsals and more time for socialising. These have often taken place at Ashridge Business Centre with a great rehearsal environment and excellent lunches! At the end of each summer term there is a joint play-through session with SARO Winds members followed by a celebratory lunch.