History of the Crosby Symphony Orchestra
One fateful day in September 1942 a small group, perhaps
only eight strong, of enthusiastic local musicians decided to start an
Orchestra. Their motivation, other than a love of playing music, is lost
in the mists of time but their brainchild, then called the Crosby Music
Society, is still flourishing sixty years later and is giving great pleasure
to players and audiences alike.
Sadly there are no surviving members of that intrepid band of 1942 to whom present members and concert goers can express the considerable debt of gratitude for their foresight in enabling so many to enjoy music making in a local Orchestra.
Over the years the organisation has had a number of names, originally a Musical Society with Orchestra and Choir it became the Crosby Orchestral Society in 1959 and its most recent incarnation -The Crosby Symphony Orchestra -in 1983. Some early snippets are worthy of record such as subscriptions originally 17/6d (37.5p post decimalisation) per year, £12 .10s .Od were offered for a pair of tympani, tea was 2d or 3d with biscuit, and a performance of Messiah made a loss of £12. The Orchestra's popularity with players was somewhat tempered ten years after founding by a limit of 35 members being imposed as a result of limited rehearsal space, however as some 50 musicians actually performed at concerts in the same year perhaps the proverbial inability of musicians to count is adequately confirmed.
The Orchestra has, throughout its life, sought to add more than just music making to the local scene and has an enviable record of fund raising for worthy causes. It is quite impossible to total the donations made to charities by the Orchestra out of proceeds of its concerts, but many thousands of pounds have helped organisations from 'Wings for Victory' and 'Holidays at Home' of the 1940's to 'Caring', 'Medical' and 'Children' recipients of the 1990's.
Reminiscences are sometimes dangerous but it would be impossible not to remark on a small number of personalities or incidents which have punctuated the Orchestra's history. The smoker 'cellist who pocketed his still lit pipe and was oblivious to all save the music, the left-handed violinist who caused consternation for his desk partners with bows moving in opposite directions, the incomparable trombonist who coped with very primitive artificial hands and the tragedy of the oboist who simply put down his instrument and died during a rehearsal. All these and many more are remembered with affection and admiration.
It is perhaps invidious to single out a few people for individual mention, when there are so many who have contributed in no small way to the past, and hopefully the future, of the organisation but no anthology could be complete without some.
For most of the first thirty years a major driving force was Wilf Murray, who as rank and file violinist, Leader, Conductor, Committee Member and Chairman gave of his time and energy to promote the Orchestra at every opportunity.
Of even longer connection was Don Boutle who joined in 1954 as a viola player, soon joining the Committee and becoming Chairman in 1969, holding the post until 1988, during which time his wise counsel, good humour and sheer enthusiasm endeared him to all. Viola players are so often the butt of musicians 'humour' and the Crosby Orchestra is the place to lay that particular injustice as it was another player, Les Ewings, who succeeded Don as Chairman, after holding the post of Secretary for ten years, and helped to steer the ship towards the wider horizons of concert giving outside Crosby.
The Crosby Symphony Orchestra decided to recognise the particular contributions
of these trojans during its Golden Jubilee year by inviting them to become
Honorary Vice-Presidents, and they were gracious in accepting this signal
honour. It is with great regret that the Orchestra has to record the passing
of both stalwarts; Les a few years ago, and Don during this the Diamond
Jubilee year. Also, and more recently, the Orchestra lost probably its
longest serving member Dorothy Smith, nobody can remember when she joined,
nor is there any written record, but it has to be over fifty years ago. She
was a member of the first violin section for all of her time with the
Orchestra and together with her late husband Reg, who played french hom,
double bass and viola (not all at the same time), was a well respected
figure in musical circles.
Artistic stability has been a feature of the Orchestra's history with three Conductors having over fifty years 'in the hot seat' between them. Wilf Murray, who was mentioned earlier, was at the helm for twelve years, immediately followed by the Orchestra's current President Geoff Cowie, who waved the stick for nineteen years, and the present incumbent Robert Sells who has just completed twenty years, making him the longest serving 'Maestro'.
All three could be described as dedicated musicians with expertise, experience and enthusiasm in the art but none earned their living from music. They were an Industrial Chemist, a Chartered Civil Engineer and a Renal Specialist respectively.
Over the years support has come from Local Authorities in a number of ways but of particular note is firstly that the now deceased Crosby Borough Council recognised the Orchestra as an 'Education Organisation' and consequently allowed free use of rehearsal rooms at Crosby Road School. and secondly Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council has, through its Cultural Fund, assisted with engagement of soloists, purchase of music and instruments such as Tymps (which were certainly not £12 .10s .0d this time round).
The Orchestra's decision, in more recent years, to promote a 'Concert Series' of three major, and some less demanding performances, each year has proved to be a success as has the policy of undertaking engagements in Liverpool Cathedral, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Adventures with concert giving outside the Liverpool area have added an extra dimension to the music making and the Orchestra even went abroad last year - to Wales, St Asaph to be precise.
The Orchestra's Diamond Jubilee concert took place in the superb Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, a fitting venue for such a Celebration. From the first steps taken during the dark days of wartime the Crosby Symphony Orchestra has prospered to become a major force in the artistic life of Merseyside and all those involved during the sixty years leave a vibrant community thrusting forwards towards a centenary.