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Q&A with Adrienne Cleary

President of Wymondham Symphony Orchestra

Gill Harle Published: 02 March 2024

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Lady plays bass drum

In last month's edition of Wymondham Magazine, we featured the Wymondham Symphony Orchestra, who are celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year. Here we talk to Adrienne Cleary (Ren), founding member of the WSO, who tells us more about the Orchestra and her own involvement. Ren has helped many young people develop their musical talents in her teaching career and her lifelong love of music has been an inspiration to others of all ages, bringing them together to play and share their enjoyment of music.

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Wymondham Symphony Orchestra, can you tell us how it all began and where you are today?

I was working with the Norfolk Music Education Department back in the 70s, who had formed an organisation called the Friends of Norfolk Youth Music (FONYM) and were running workshops for children gifted in playing their musical instruments. Occasionally we staged an orchestral workshop, which took a lot of organising, but at the end of the day we'd all come together and perform as an orchestra. The children really loved the day and asked when the next one would be. I began to think there was a lack of openings for talented children to play in a regular and reasonably sized orchestra, so I put an ad in the local newspaper for anyone interested in forming a Community Orchestra in Wymondham of Grade 6-8 level on their instruments. 12 people of all ages turned up and the following week 24, so within no time we had some 50 players!

I was teaching at Wymondham College at the time and a new Head of Music arrived, Kenneth Ian H?tch, who had conducting experience, so I asked him if he would like to conduct the orchestra, and he did so very enthusiastically. He conducted us for some 18 years, during which time we grew in size and stature. Sir Malcolm Arnold, one of the finest English composers of his time, became our Patron. He had just moved into the area and was keen to get involved with an amateur orchestra. We played many of his works and were thrilled when Emma Johnson, winner of the BBC Young Musician Competition in 1984, came to perform his 2nd Clarinet Concerto with us in Attleborough Church for his 70th Birthday Concert in 1991.

We are based in South Norfolk and regularly perform in Wymondham Abbey, but also sometimes in Attleborough Church, Norwich and outlying village halls. We attract many professional soloists to the orchestra and for many years we had some very fine winners of The Haverhill Sinfonia Music Competition perform concertos with us, as well as winners of the Norfolk Young Musician Competition. We also amalgamated with choirs in the area and performed many choral works with the Verdi Chorus in Norwich, also the Wymondham Choral Society, the Thetford Singers and the Ely Choral Society, of which our present conductor, Andrew Parnell, is their Director of Music.

In 1991 we changed our name to the Wymondham Symphony Orchestra (WSO) to reflect the size and stature we had become. We've had very welcome support from Wymondham Town Council, South Norfolk District Council and various organisations which have helped us afford to pay for the hire of music, purchase percussion instruments and given money towards buying a trailer.

We have our rehearsals in the Central Hall in Wymondham and now perform three concerts a year in Wymondham Abbey, and every two years we perform a Christmas Concert with children from the local schools.

Can you tell us about your own musical background?

Lady plays piano

Music has been in my life from a very early age. My parents were both very musical and took me to many concerts and arranged for me to have piano and violin lessons. They sent me to schools where creative arts were important, and I got into the Royal College of Music to study both these instruments. I also learnt to play the recorder there and have had many fine pupils achieving amazing results in the ABRSM exams since.

I taught for years at Old Hall School Hethersett until it closed down and then Wymondham College, where I am still teaching. I also conducted the Robert Kett Middle School orchestra for some 25 years and another at Morley School. I sang with Keswick Hall Choir in Norwich for many years, which gave me a love of choral music and also was occasionally asked to conduct the Norfolk Society of Recorder Players.

What is your role in the WSO and who else is involved?

I'm the President of the orchestra now and I help to find soloists, make sure we have venues for rehearsals and concerts and find extra players when needed. I also play in the percussion department, often seen to be beating the bass drum or clashing the cymbals! We have a fantastic Committee of some 10 members, and we also formed the Wymondham Production Company which helps us manage our concerts. Our conductor, Andrew Parnell, who has been with us for over 20 years, is an inspiration to us all and inspires us to play ever more challenging works. We also have a thriving 'Friends of the WSO' run by Roger Cottrell, a founding member and who used to Lead the orchestra.

Can you tell us about the 40th Anniversary Concert on Saturday June 29th in Wymondham Abbey?

We've come a complete circle because we have another very talented young Norfolk player, Catherine McCardel, coming to play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. It carries on our ethos of inviting young Norfolk musicians to play often their first concerto with us. We are also playing The Little Suite No.1 by Sir Malcolm Arnold and then the mighty and very popular Bruckner 4th Symphony (The Romantic) as homage to his 200th Anniversary. We look forward to having another wonderful audience.

Please follow us on Facebook and our website: www.wymondhamsymphonyorchestra.org.uk

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