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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Our Community Symphony Orchesatra will Live On

Do you remember the story I told back in October about a banana farmer who grew his own symphony orchestra over a period of 16 years?

Barry Singh is the conductor and founder of the Northern Rivers Symphony Orchestra in New South Wales, Australia. The orchestra exists solely on ticket sales at mainly local concerts in Tweed Heads, and it's always a tight squeeze to pay the musicians.

For sixteen years musicians from far flung towns in the Northern Rivers practised in small groups with rehearsals for the entire orchestra rare. Barry even took the big risk of hiring the concert hall in the Brisbane Arts Centre for a performanmce that cost $38,000 a couple of years ago, and ticket sales ran short, rocking the bank account.

The orchestra faced extinction last year when a cheque for $18,000 bounced although it was supposed to pay for the orchestra's appearance at a festival in Byron Bay. The cheque failure neatly wiped out the nest egg the orchestra committee had been building as a buffer against hard times.

In October Barry decided to hold a benefit concert to save his orchestra's bacon.

Barry Singh - source NRSO

The big news: last night was the night of nights and the orchestra will live on. The Seagulls Rugby League Football Club auditorium was filled to the rafters with an audience of 1,400.

Donations of almost $10,000 came in from individuals and the tiny Palm Beach Rotary Club over the border in Queensland gave $10,000. Sales of CDs ran hot.

The orchestra's performance was probably the best ever and it was supported by performances of artists from the Queensland Opera Company, plus ballet and ballroom dancers. Everyone gave their services gratis.
It was a night to remember!

Barry told the excited audience that their support demonstrated how the community felt about its orchestra. The show had been booked out in three days and plans were now being laid for another concert in March, with 300 tickets already sold. The group's future was assured for many months ahead.

The audience, determined to save their orchestra, also well and truly got their money's worth.

The programme went for almost four hours. It included music for a wide range of tastes, from John Williams' score for the film Raiders of the Lost Ark to the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Soloists Liza Beamish and Kathleen-Proctor-Moore were a crowd favourite with the Flower Duet from Lakme as, inevitably, was Nessun Dorma sung by Andrew Pryor. Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien brought the evening to a crashing conclusion.

To my mind the orchestra has never played better.

Barry Singh himself has quite a story. The conductor/banana farmer studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music but had to leave the course when his father died and Barry returned to help his mother on the family farm.

As a youngster he had studied music at school and practised in the farm's packing shed against the wishes of his father, who was often violent towards him and his mother. His study in Queensland followed when he won a scholarship.

The North Coast's generosity to the NRSO echoes the nation's huge support for the Victorian bush fire victims, in the same week. I reckon we're a pretty caring country nowadays.

Do you have a community orchestra in your home town? How does it survive?


  1. What an interesting post. I wish I could have been there for the music.
    Our town is just too small to have an orchestra of it's own, but we do enjoy the Atlanta Symphony.
    Have a great day and.....

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  2. Wow - that IS great news!

  3. I am so happy that your orchestra will be able to continue and supply you with their wonderful music in the future. Sounds like it was a great evening enjoyed by all and very beneficial. We don't have an orchestra here either but there is one in Lexington. Hugs.

  4. I cant tell you how pleased I am to know and read about Barry Singh!

  5. That's very inspiring! and exciting! Sounds like a wonderful evening and concert. Particularly now, when all of you in Australia need some inspiration, some joy and a little escape! Have a great week!

  6. Dear Reggie Girl
    The Atlanta Symphony will do eh!
    It's hard to beat a night of live music to blow away the cobwebs.

    Sure is good news. I thought Barry Singh would 'pop his braces' last night. I got the feeling that the best thing of all was the realisation that the community was so much behind him.

  8. JUDY
    How about getting yourself to Lexington and do yourself a favour?
    Hugs back

  9. SREE
    Yes Barry is an inspiration.

  10. Dear SYLVIA
    You're right as usual. You know I think every little town (and big) is holding its own bushfire appeal and collecting donations. The whole nation is rightly obsessed with helping out. But we need a bit of light relief as well. (In March there's going to be a specific bushfire relief appeal in the very same auditorium we were in last night. Let's hope its full again for that.)

  11. June:
    I hear a natural orchestra every day. The orchestra played by the birds in the morning and evenings by the birds. Their tunes vary from season to season and mood to mood. If you are near to their nest it is just like siren, if you are away from it it is diferent.

  12. And there are no tickets to buy!

  13. I think I need to orchestrate an orchestra after reading your post. We have many, but I don't have one!
    I will keep coming over.

  14. Hi NSIYER
    If you are a good lad and work as hard as Barry does, AND make your orchestra in an area which DOESN'T have an orchestra, AND share it unselfishly with those around you, I'm sure you will succeed. Enjoy your orchestra Nsiyer!


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