The Glasgow Chamber Orchestra is a charity registered in Scotland No SC022256
The Orchestra is affiliated to Making Music Scotland - Supporting & Championing Voluntary Music
The jump to orchestral playing happened when I was invited to the St James Orchestra (now known as Paisley Sinfonia) to play 2nd flute & piccolo. I was also asked to help out the GCO as an extra on various occasions. Eventually I had been “helping” the GCO for a solid year and was urged to audition and join. I still play with both GCO and Paisley Sinfonia and have played as an extra with Glasgow Orchestral Society as well. I still have flute lessons and have been working towards taking Trinity College grade exams.
Outside of playing, I work in an independent school dealing with school fees and other financial matters, which has been useful training for becoming Treasurer of the GCO!
At school, I started playing violin because the woodwind teacher was fully booked. However, I kept at it with encouragement from various peripatetic teachers and the school music department and joined the school orchestra, did O grade music and even qualified for Glasgow schools summer orchestra one year.
I was able to switch to flute just before I left school. I spent some of my student grant money on a flute and took lessons from a Mr Banks in Shawlands, who suggested I join the YMCA Glasgow Wind Orchestra. This was a different sort of ensemble playing and it took me a while to get used to it. From there I joined various other wind bands and learned to play via individual lessons and much practice. I also took up piccolo on the advice of an ex-military director of music who conducted the YMCA band for a while and insisted on auditioning its players. I also took part in various overseas trips, some more enjoyable than others.
The old GCO line-up!
The music department of the school was insistent that I applied to the RSAMD, something I wasn’t keen on as I suffered terribly with nerves. I was offered a place but eventually turned it down to go to University instead. The school, very kindly, lent me an oboe when I left until I was able to get one of my own which I did, thankfully in first year. I’m not sure I would still be playing if it weren’t for that kind offer.
I went to Glasgow Uni in 1976 where I studied maths and music, and it was here that I first encountered the inimitable Dr Rycroft! I still remember the disappointment I caused her with my essay on Haydn, but I still passed, Marjorie!
Following university and college I began my career as a maths teacher in the East End of Glasgow. It was rough, but I loved it and loved the kids, warts and all! Due to school closures I moved to the, supposedly, leafy suburbs of King’s Park where, after a few years, I was promoted into Pastoral Care, amongst other things! I can remember when I first moved to KP saying that I enjoyed it so much that I could see myself staying there for five years! Mmmm…..Five turned into twenty nine! I enjoyed most of my time there, but haven’t regretted taking early retirement in 2016.
In terms of playing, I actually gave up for a couple of years not long after I started teaching as nerves became too big a deal for me, and had not been for Diane Levey’s relentless pushing at me to join GCO I’m not sure I’d have ever gone back to it! This was in the early to mid 80s, and I’ve never looked back!!! GCO has given me some great opportunities to play pieces as I’d never have encountered, some good (Scheherazade, Shostakovich 5 to name but two) and some not so good (anyone remember the Stuart Macrae commission?????), but one thing’s for sure, it’s a great orchestra and hopefully it’ll not be long before we’re back doing what we do best!
My musical history started in primary school playing recorder, as I’m sure many others did! I loved it I have to say. I also sang in various choirs. However, going to Bellahouston Academy was where the serious stuff began! My first orchestral instrument was the viola, and I despised it with a passion (sorry violas)!! I was then offered the French horn but wasn’t even sure what that was, so I was just told to turn up for a lesson and I’d be told what I was getting then.
This instrument turned out to be the oboe, and I took to it like the proverbial duck to water! I also got piano lessons at school and sang in the school choir, something that was obligatory in our school. I got some amazing opportunities in school as our school choir was the forerunner of the SNO Junior Chorus, so we sang in various proms, including Carmina Burana and Mahler Eight. I still remember jumping in fright when the SNO Chorus started singing at our first rehearsal for Mahler Eight – the sound was massive! I also played the recorder in an orchestral recording of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge. The solo guitarist was Steve Hackett, who slouched onto the stage in ripped denims, a denim jacket and a glittery beanie hat – a tad underdressed I suspect for the neat and tidy members of the SNO!
As well as playing in the University orchestra, I also played in Glasgow Unitarian Orchestra which was an unbelievable training in orchestral playing for me. Many of the “older” generation of current professionals cut their teeth there – Willie Conway, Dougie Boyd, David McLenaghan, Justine Watts and Jane Reid, to name but a few, and it was also there that I first met my buddy Susie Gibson (nee Milne) and the dashing Douglas Gibson. You can see how young and stunning we looked at the time in the picture opposite! Ladies, note the long dresses – very much the thing at that time!
Outwith playing I have a lot of hobbies, including (slowly) working at getting back into running again after a knee injury, card making, knitting and crocheting. I learned to crochet after retiring and am now an avid/ obsessive crocheter. My current projects include baby blankets for the Gibson girls’ new arrivals to be!
I was born and brought up in the suburbs of Glasgow, in Cambuslang, and travelled all the way to Glasgow University to study law! Actually, I did spend my 3rd year on Erasmus exchange studying French law, in French, in the city of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region of France, so I have ventured out a little bit in my formative years. After University I went on to qualify first as a solicitor, and then after a couple of years, and a few more exams, I started my pupillage to become an Advocate, the Scottish equivalent to a barrister. I didn’t go to University thinking that’s how my legal career would go, but I was steered in that direction by my old boss when I was a solicitor and I’m still doing it.
I was called to the Scottish Bar in 2008 and have been essentially a freelancer (all Advocates are independent, sole practitioners) ever since. I specialise in employment law and am usually to be found arguing cases in employment tribunals, but we all do some other more general court and advice work as well.
Me with my Dad on the day
I was called to the Bar
I started playing the clarinet through getting lessons in secondary school. I learned the recorder during 1st year, and then switched to clarinet in 2nd year. I was drawn to the creamy sound of the clarinet (when played well!) and found that I enjoyed playing it. I did Standard Grade and Higher Music and whilst I kept playing after I left school I didn’t get any more lessons and was a wind band player for many years.
I’m actually relatively new to orchestral playing. I decided I wanted to take my clarinet playing a bit more seriously 10 years ago, bought my first ‘orchestral pair’ of instruments and really had a lot of lessons over several years that worked on changing my technique, which had developed some pretty bad habits. My first orchestral concert was my first concert with GCO! I joined in September 2011. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to have enquired but I had met our then-conductor Peter Jones at a party and he had suggested trying out. I was struck by how the orchestra took the music seriously but was also extremely welcoming to me.
There were and are wonderful musicians in GCO, and whilst Peter at times could be a tough task master, I very much believe that joining GCO was a key stage of developing my playing further. In chamber orchestra as a wind player you are so exposed, and even if some of the parts are not as virtuosic as some of the bigger repertoire at times, they have big demands on the quality of sound that you need to make, and on your intonation and blend with the other woodwinds. This has had a big influence on the sort of sound I try to make. The first 2 or so years in GCO I still had a lot of learning to do about the basics of orchestral playing. I probably still do!
One thing that has also steadily happened is my accumulation of instruments! I started with my pair, Bb and A. I’d actually bought an Eb clarinet not long before I joined GCO, and I think I’ve only ever played Eb in one rehearsal with GCO, but I’ve played it in the wind band I still play in, and sometimes I play it with GOS.
I have the world’s worst bass clarinet. Then I got a C clarinet second hand, which is actually called for pretty often in the music we play. Then I got a basset horn (actually I’ve got two at the moment but that won’t be forever!), and I treated myself to a new Eb clarinet at Christmas time last year. It’s starting to get a challenge to fit them all into my little flat!
It’s a real privilege to get to play some amazing repertoire with GCO. There are a lot of very memorable concerts. I think one of the early concerts that sticks out in respect of my development as a player was when we did Beethoven 6, which I think was really the first BIG clarinet part I had to play. The 60th anniversary Shostakovich 5 concert also holds a special place for me as I was chair of the orchestra then and it was a huge work for us and a bit of a risk artistically and financially. I’ll also remember the sound of someone creaking open a door behind us in the Bute Hall half way through Wendy’s solo in the 3rd movement. Fortunately, they realised they were somewhere they shouldn’t be and the door creaked closed again!
Me on the old Bassett Horn
Every single one of these instruments is……..ESSENTIAL!
I’ve also enjoyed greatly the occasions when I’ve played chamber music with my colleagues, and it’s great to be able to play clarinet duet repertoire with Stephen. I also look forward to the memorable concerts still to come. I was looking forward to Tombeau de Couperin as it is technically very challenging, but hopefully we will be back to that next summer.
GCO brought me back to orchestral playing after a gap of many years. As the result of a chance encounter with Elspeth Munro, I agreed to plug a first bassoon gap for a term. In the course of that term I rediscovered my love of orchestral playing, met old friends, made new ones, and renewed a special friendship with Wendy Dougan, which dated back to the seventies and Glasgow Unitarian Youth Orchestra (which was also where I first encountered a certain tall timpanist . . . and ours is not the only marriage which owes its beginnings to a draughty old church in St Vincent Street!)
For the past seventeen years I have been lucky enough to spend Tuesday evenings with a great bunch of people who have supported one another through thick and thin, through good times and some very difficult times, and through concerts ranging from very good to truly spectacular. Even our daughters are part of the GCO family – Clare (who took the wind playing path) has played oboe with us, and Kara (who followed in her father’s footsteps) made an appearance in the percussion section for a CLIC Sargent concert.
Now, much to our delight, our family is set to expand as Clare is expecting a baby in July and Kara in September. (Hazel has already placed an order for a viola player……).
Both girls live in Edinburgh, so many trips along the M8 in store – but not on Tuesday evenings!
I was never much into pop music or dancing, and Allan Glen’s in those days was a boys-only school, so my opportunities to meet girls were few and far between, that was until I found the Glasgow Unitarian Youth Orchestra – both an outlet for my timpani-playing skills and a fount of young ladies to chat up! That was where I met a young bassoonist called Susan, of which more later.
I left school and went to Glasgow University to study science, eventually emerging with an honours degree in Physics, only to go back in again to take on a PhD. Music was always there in the background, however, and by that time, I was playing with any group that would have me – even the Glasgow Chamber Orchestra under its then conductor, Sam Bor (in the McLellan Galleries I remember). I played in the pit for musicals at the Kings Theatre, and I was lucky enough to get some dep work with the SNO. Two concerts stand out from that time. The first was a UK premiere of a piece by Polish composer Penderecki, which involved 9 percussionists – I had to improvise on 5 wood blocks at one point. The second was the infamous SNO Prom concert in the Kelvin Hall circus arena conducted by Alexander Gibson. It was Mahler’s 2nd Symphony the “Resurrection”, and at the point when the off-stage brass was meant to come in, nothing happened – Gibson was left to wave his arms to no avail. Were they still in the bar – who can say?
Sadly, my professional playing opportunities then took a back seat while I had to focus on earning a living. I started working as an engineer with Barr & Stroud, the defence contractor based at that time at Anniesland Cross (where Morrisons now sits). My work took me all over the world, as we demonstrated equipment to various armies, navies and air forces.
By that time, Susan and I were married, and we were lucky enough to have two lovely girls, Clare and then Kara. Both girls developed their own musical talents – Clare on piano and oboe and Kara on piano and percussion (taking after her old man!). In fact, both briefly played with the GCO, although these days they both prefer singing in a fantastic choir called the St Andrew Camerata, based in Edinburgh.
I’ve always been a church-goer, and by one of those accidents of fate, I agreed to deputise on the organ at our church one day, and ended up as full-time organist and choirmaster, a job I have been doing now for over 20 years – still can’t master the pedals though! As well as running the choir, I also set up a small music group for the youngsters in our church. ICHTHUS was open to anyone who played a musical instrument. I would arrange hymns for whatever combination of players we could get. At its peak, the group had over 20 players, including 5 flutes, 4 trombones and 3 bassoons - beat that GCO!
I was born and brought up on Crow Road, just a stone’s throw from the church where we now rehearse. My father was one of those lucky people who could sit down at a piano and play any tune you wished, without the need for music – a gift that he failed to pass on to me, sadly. My piano lesson experience took me as far as Grade 1, until I gave up on the lessons and looked for something else to play. That turned out to be percussion – firstly as a side drummer with the Boys’ Brigade pipe band and then at school with the Allan Glen’s school orchestra. !).
I seemed to develop the knack of percussion playing quite easily and quickly, and in fact I was one of the first pupils in Scotland to gain a Higher Music in Percussion, when that was finally introduced in the late 1960s.
Both Clare and Kara are married now, and indeed are both expecting their first child at the moment! (The second photo is of our family, taken at Kara’s wedding in 20 17). For Susie and me, the GCO has long been a great source of enjoyment, and each concert has been a pleasure and a thrill. I was especially delighted last year when the GCO was finally able to purchase rehearsal timpani. Having just one rehearsal prior to a concert certainly focusses the mind but is definitely not good for the nerves!
Sadly, rehearsals and concerts are now on hold for who knows how long, and it is one of things that we both miss the most these days. Hopefully, we will get back to music-making together sometime in the not too distant future. I can’t wait!
Playing at a Boys’ Brigade display where we borrowed the Allan Glen’s school timpani - hand-tuned in those days !
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