Published: 21/09/2007 00:00 - Updated: 25/11/2011 20:11

Tackling Beethoven in terrible style — earplugs advised

Anni Cole-Hamilton says musicians need to have sense of humour to join.
Anni Cole-Hamilton says musicians need to have sense of humour to join.

CLASSICAL music lovers who might normally be delighted with news an orchestra is about to relocate to Inverness could change their minds with the revelation that one particular ensemble is planning a move. At present the Truly Terrible Orchestra whose name gives fair warning of their musical prowess meets for rehearsals every Tuesday evening at the Moray Firth School in Gollanfield where there is less likelihood of irritating the neighbours. Now, however, the orchestra is looking for a new home in a more central place in Inverness where it can attract even more musically challenged members. "We started off a year ago and the idea was that adults with a sense of humour who hadn't played for a long time and would like to play again, would get together and nobody would feel like a complete eejit when they started playing because they were all at the same stage," orchestra founder and school head Anni Cole-Hamilton explained. "When you take up an instrument again and you haven't played the violin for something like 40 years it sounds pretty bad. But if you are in the company of like-minded eejits, then it's just so much fun, and really that's just what we're doing. I know if I had lessons I wouldn't practice between them, but the impetus of the orchestra is such that nobody minds if you've been flying around and not practising. We turn up on the night and nobody's been practising for weeks and it doesn't matter." A lapsed violinist, Cole-Hamilton modestly describes herself as the worst player in the string section, but adds that there is a lot of competition for the title. "We are better than we were, but we started from a very low base, so I don't think anyone else would hear the improvement," she acknowledged. "We did have a lovely piece where the clarinetist managed to hit a high note right at the end wonderfully and she got a tremendous round of applause. That's the sort of level we're at." The orchestra has a broad range of instruments, with a keyboard player who adds in some of the missing instrumentation, and Cole-Hamilton would like to introduce a brass section, though more strings would be needed to balance it out. Its members include housewives, doctors, teachers and broadcaster-turned-councillor Thomas Prag. There are also some traditional fiddlers who are dipping a toe into the world of classical music. But the orchestra has a real classical trained musician, too, in conductor and musical director Jon Hall. "He keeps a fixed smile on his face and somehow we get through the evening," Cole-Hamilton said. "He re-writes pieces for us to suit our instruments and our abilities, so it's actually some quite demanding pieces we have been tackling, but at a level we can play. It's a real mix from early music through to Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn and through to Gershwin and slightly jazzier pieces." The Truly Terrible Orchestra is not unique and has an Edinburgh counterpart in the Really Terrible Orchestra, which includes best-selling writer Alexander MacCall Smith in its ranks. "We have been in touch with them and have mutual invitations to visit each others' orchestras in Edinburgh or Inverness. They're a great bunch, very funny. They meet on a Wednesday night and if I'm ever in Edinburgh on a Wednesday night I'll be taking my violin along just to check them out, but I gather they are nearly as bad as we are," Cole-Hamilton commented. However, she revealed the inspiration was actually 1970s outfit the Portsmouth Sinfonia, which included real, but not classically trained, musicians in its ranks like ambient composer Brian Eno. "They were so bad they actually made an album and it became a hit," Cole-Hamilton recalled. "There was one chap in it who only played one tune, no matter what the orchestra were playing. He played the same tune all the way through and they rarely finished together, which I must say we usually manage to do. I was sitting in my room one night, wishing I could play my violin again and thought that if they could do, so could I." The Truly Terrible Orchestra have yet to reach a position where they feel able to share their music with the general public, but this could be coming with suggestions for a Christmas concert, though inevitably it will be a concert with a difference. "We haven't actually invited anyone to hear us yet, but we feel we are moving towards that," its founder said. "The idea is that it would be a fundraiser. People would pay a certain amount for a ticket. And if they left at half-time they would have to pay more! Also, we'll have our interval at the beginning so they're well tanked up on wine before we start." * Potential recruits can find out more by visiting the Moray Firth School website on or telephoning the school on 01667-461188.

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