They is not your average orchestra.

Dressed in bright colours, they play music from Harry Potter, there are 14 flute players but not many violinists, and one of them is a British Airways pilot.

This is The People’s Orchestra, a band of talented amateurs from all over the Midlands who come together for the sheer joy of playing music.

Sixty-odd strong and run by volunteers, TPO is based in West Bromwich but performs throughout the region, with a concert of film music coming up at Birmingham’s Adrian Boult Hall.

TPO was founded two years ago by Sarah Marshall, now the orchestra’s managing director.

She set it up with Andy Sandham, her daughter Amy’s French horn teacher, and the help of professional conductor Iain Masson.

Classed as a charity, six months ago it hit crisis point when its office at The Public in West Bromwich was closed by Sandwell Council.

But now its future is secure after winning a £100,000 grant from the Arts Council.

Sarah says: “The grant is fantastic news and means we can push on with an exciting artistic programme.

“Our existence has been very hand-to-mouth but now we can employ two managers.

“The idea for TPO came during one of Amy’s French horn lessons in my lounge.

“She was in the Birmingham Schools’ Symphony Orchestra but it wasn’t really her cup of tea. She liked some of the music they played but she had long periods where she had nothing to do.

“We realised there’s a gap in the market for people who like to play for fun. People who learned instruments when they were younger up to a Grade 7 or 8 level, but didn’t go on to music schools or join professional orchestras.

“They may not have played for years while their instruments gathered dust in the attic.

“We want to get these people playing again.

Managing director of The People's Orchestra, Sarah Marshall, based in West Bromwich.
Managing director of The People's Orchestra, Sarah Marshall, based in West Bromwich.
 

“Some of our members have not played for 20 years or so. They find they’re a bit rusty at first, but it’s like riding a bike, it comes back after a few rehearsals. A lot of people have surprised themselves by how good they are.

“The orchestra has really grown quickly. We launched with just one member, my daughter Amy, in April 2012. But by November we had 35 members and performed our first concert at Adrian Boult Hall. Six weeks later we played a sold-out show in Symphony Hall.

“We have about 65 members now but would like more than 100.

“We used to have quite formal auditions which scared some people off, so now we just ask them to come along to rehearsals and sit with the orchestra. After two or three weeks, the conductor decides if they are suitable, but we very rarely turn people away.

“We couldn’t pick just two flute players, so we have 14. It’s surprisingly balanced though, everyone listens to each other and works very well together.

“It looks on paper like it wouldn’t work but it does.

“We have eight members in the horn section but are still looking for trombone and tuba players.

“We have a full set of saxophones, half a dozen clarinets and bassoons.

“We’re looking for more percussion players, they seem difficult to find.

“Even more rare are violinists, which is baffling. There must be lots of them out there. That’s our mission, to boost our string section.”

The members come from throughout the Midlands and range in age from 15 to 71. Professions include doctors, teachers, music teachers and even a British Airways pilot playing the trumpet.

“The main thing is, it’s a lot of fun,” says Sarah. “They’re a good bunch and very supportive of each other. They do things like bake cakes for concerts.

“We want to be accessible for audiences, to get rid of this idea that going to see an orchestra is something stuffy and elite. It’s really not.

“We don’t wear black suits and bow ties, we’re very colourful. Each section has their own coloured T-shirt with a picture of their instrument on it. The brass section is yellow, strings are green, woodwind is orange and percussion is blue.

“You can see from a distance that we’re The People’s Orchestra.

“If people don’t have their own instrument, we can lend them one. Don’t let that put you off.

“We play popular music like film scores, the music for games like World of Warcraft and TV theme tunes like Match of the Day and the Formula One theme – we had to get permission from Fleetwood Mac to do that. We’re prepared to have a go at anything.”

TPO has an office at West Bromwich Town Hall, run by volunteers.

One of the charity’s aims is to help local unemployed people get back to work, by giving them experience in administration, marketing and social media.

TPO rehearses every Sunday at Trefoil House in Birmingham city centre.

It is planning a flashmob event in Birmingham city centre soon to raise awareness of the orchestra.

It is also be performing at the Birmingham Mail’s Pride of Birmingham Awards at the Town Hall on September 26.

Its next concert is on June 22 at Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham. Film Greats includes music from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, plus the world premiere of Flight of the Pegasus, composed specially for the orchestra by John Koutselinis.

“He found us through Linkedin and sent us the piece, arranged specially for us with more flute parts! It will sound fantastic.

“We’re trying to do the best we can with the piece, but need more string players to do it justice.”

* Tickets for the June 22 concert are available by ringing 0121 569 2616 or visiting www.thepeoplesorchestra.com

Pride Of Birmingham Awards
Pride Of Birmingham Awards 2014
 

* The People’s Orchestra will be playing live at the inaugural Pride of Birmingham awards on September 26.

The awards, organised by the Birmingham Mail in association with Virgin Trains, will be a star-studded event at the city’s historic Town Hall.

They will celebrate the courage, caring and compassion of remarkable people who make a difference.

As well as the orchestra, celebrities from showbiz and sport, rock and pop, film and TV will join host Gaby Roslin on the night.

Among those helping to present the awards will be Black Sabbath guitar hero Tony Iommi, BRIT Awards nominee Laura Mvula, pop wizard Roy Wood, soul queen Ruby Turner and UB40 legend Ali Campbell.

Sporting stars will include Aston Villa legends Stiliyan Petrov, whose battle against cancer has been an inspiration in itself, Dion Dublin and Ian Taylor.

From film and TV come celebrity chef Glynn Purnell, James and Oliver Phelps – the Weasley twins from the Harry Potter movies – and Doctors favourites Ian Kelsey and Lorna Laidlaw.

Additional celebrities have yet to be announced, and there will be surprise special guests on the night, plus familiar faces beaming in by video.

More live music will come from the award-winning Black Voices, whose founder Carol Pemberton has just been made an MBE.

Pride of Birmingham will benefit a £1 million campaign to set up Europe’s first Rare Diseases Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, teaming medics and researchers from the QE, Childrens Hospital and Birmingham University.

The Pride of Birmingham awards will be open to the public, and details of tickets will appear soon. Keep up to date with news on facebook and twitter by checking out #PrideofBrum.

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