Published: 05 September 2023

The logistical maestro behind Surrey’s Community Orchestra Days

We have been running our popular Community Orchestra Days since 2017 and we now regularly see up to 100 players sign-up to join the event. Jo Plaistowe, Marketing Officer for the Department of Music and Media, is the logistical maestro behind the day and we asked her what goes on behind the scenes to make our Orchestra Days such a success.  

Orchestra Day March 2023

What is a Community Orchestra Day? 

It’s a day-long event where musicians from the University and local area come together on campus to scratch-rehearse a piece of music and then perform it in front of an audience. We run them twice a year, one in the spring and one in the autumn. It’s free for both musicians and audience and, as word has got out about how fantastic they are more and more people come along to join us each time. It’s a great way for the University to give something back to Guildford. 

community orchestra day

Why did Orchestra Days start? 

Originally set up to encourage local musicians to join, and rehearse with, the Orchestra full-time, our Community Orchestra Days  now draw members of the local community onto campus where they can see and use our amazing facilities for themselves, plus benefit from the expert tuition of our Head of Conducting, Russell Keable.  

orchestra day November 2021

Who plays in the Community Orchestra Days?  

Our players range in age from 9 to 90! This includes current music students and students of other disciplines, as well as academic and administrative staff, alumni and general members of the public. These can be professional musicians, players from other orchestras, or musicians who are rusty, as well as a few very talented children. Musicians are required to hold Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) Grade 7 or equivalent. We get groups of friends who return time after time. 

Brass section of University of Surrey's Orchestra Day, June 2022

And why do people come?  

It’s such a great day! It’s a free immersive experience for local musicians and audience, allowing them to experience how their instrument contributes to the overall sound of a full orchestra, without having to commit to weeks of rehearsals.  

Which pieces of music have the Community Orchestra played?

They’re ambitious! We’ve had Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a programme of Bernstein classics, as well as tv and film music which included Thunderbirds' March and the Star Wars theme. My particular favourite was Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which gave me goosebumps from the very first note!  

Musicians at University of Surrey's Community Orchestra Day, September 2022

What is involved in setting up an Orchestra Day? 

The first task is to choose the repertoire and the date with Russell. And then it’s a long hunt to find a balanced orchestra to perform the piece successfully, which can be quite a task. For example, we could easily fill an orchestra with 20 flautists, however, finding four cornet players within a 20-mile radius of Guildford can be tricky! 

Depending on the numbers of people who sign-up, I then need to find a venue which can accommodate the players and audience. We started in the Performing Arts Technology Studios, in Studio 1, our flagship classical studio on campus, but as the event has grown, we’ve had to move to University Hall which accommodates not only 100 players but a further 200 people in the audience. 

I also co-ordinate a concert event management team, made up of student helpers who get to experience a full day of how an event like this works.  

Musicians playing in Surrey University Orchestra Day, Sept 2022

What do you enjoy about Orchestra Days? 

The highlight for me is meeting up with local musicians who have become friends as they return to take part time and time again. 

I love the buzz of the day and how, after all the hard work, everything comes together in the final performance. We see players of different ages, personalities, cultures backgrounds, all united in their love of music. 

Interested in joining in our next Orchestra Day? 

Our next Orchestra Day will play A London Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams and will be held on Sunday 1 October, 2023, from 11am-6.15pm. Lunch and refreshments are provided. 

Anyone who would like to play in the Orchestra should email  by 15 September, 2023  

If you would like to join the audience for the final performance, please book your ticket via Eventbrite.

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