All Together Now with Pendle Community Orchestra
by James Crickmore
Unearthing Pendle's musical talent
Pendle Community Orchestra (formerly Pendle Youth Orchestra) was founded in the 1970s to unearth Pendle’s musical talent. Throughout its 50-year history, the orchestra has nurtured hundreds of musicians and entertained thousands. ColneLife recently chatted to pianist, flautist, and leader of the band Peter Elmer, to discover how Colne’s very own orchestra always manages to play on…
It was in 1995 when Peter joined the Orchestra, crediting his daughters for his initial participation. “My Lucy played the trumpet, and Jennie played the clarinet.” Peter explained how in the past, the orchestra was funded by “a National Lottery grant given in the 80s. With this, we bought a full set of orchestral instruments.” This purchase meant recruits with limited experience could be lent instruments to progress their skills.
“We still lend them out now. I’m all about getting people involved, and we always accommodate new players.” This sets the Community Orchestra aside from other local groups. “It’s one of our philosophies to bring in fairly new players. Some classical orchestras in the area require an audition to get in or only use a certain number of players. Because we don’t do this, it brings our members on tremendously.”
“I’M ALL ABOUT GETTING PEOPLE INVOLVED AND WE ALWAYS ACCOMMODATE NEW PLAYERS.”
“We lost our council funding about 15 years ago, so now we self-fund. We rely on concerts to get our income.” Despite this, Peter emphasized giving back to the community, even for no profit. “I like to try to play locally too, and we can play for nothing. If someone wants us to play, it’s all about getting heard in the community. Finding venues and keeping going is a constant struggle, but we’ve done better recently when getting out there.”
The Orchestra has been busy this summer with fun, impressive displays at the Colne Gala and the Nelson Civil Ladies Choir Concert. Passionate, Peter quickly agreed that the standard of both events was immense. “Colne Gala was fantastic; we loved it. The experience of playing on a moving lorry was amazing,” Peter chuckled. “We got a great response from the audience. They followed us up and down the streets.”
The main street! We got into that.” Previously, the Orchestra has impressively performed all over the UK at venues such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the Liverpool Garden Festival, and the Glasgow Garden Festival, making sure Colne’s flair for music is recognised all over!
“Education has been vital to enlisting young musicians,” says Peter. However, with disappointment, he noticed of late, schools in the area were having less influence over young people when it came to music. “Sadly, we started seeing a loss in members a while back. Secondary schools, especially, were cutting orchestral tuition, so we ceased to get a lot of new numbers coming in from schools. That’s still the case as there remains very little in Pendle.” Peter was desperate to change this, along with fellow musician and “brilliant conductor” Steve Taylor. “We try to get into schools when we can and give music lessons, explain music, and tell them what we do.”
“IF YOU’VE PLAYED IN THE PAST OR IF YOU’RE NEW, COME ALONG TO REHEARSALS.”
Having played all his life, mastering instruments ranging from piano to clarinet, Peter is a crucial figure in multiple organizations. His musical career has involved completing his honors degree in Huddersfield, teaching music, performing at Butlins, and even featuring on two albums. “I still play for the Pendle Hippodrome Youth Theatre,” along with Pendle Children’s Choir, and I also play the keyboard in The Swing City Big Band.
“If you’ve played in the past or are new, come along to rehearsals. We can lend you an instrument. There’s no time to give lessons, but we can encourage everyone. Sit in if you like. Get a feel for the atmosphere. Our style isn’t classical – it’s more show tunes or selections.” Peter smiled – keen to get some new members on board. “There’s a great mix of adults and children. In fact, many of our older members started when they were young and have come on so well.”
ColneLife Autumn 23