The Sillars Light Orchestra was founded in the city of Norwich, Norfolk in 1926 by John Archibald “Archie” Sillars. His original intention was for the ensemble to perform concerts in aid of the YMCA but later expanded it so that the group would perform concerts for other local charities and worthy causes. From its beginning and up to the years of the Second World War, the orchestra was known as the St. Michael’s Orchestra and rehearsed at St. Michael at Plea church in Norwich. Then, in the 1940s, St Michael’s amalgamated with the Princes Street Congregational Church PSA Band and changed its name to The Sillars Light Orchestra with Archie Sillars continuing to conduct until his death in 1963.
The departure of Sillars first conductor came just before the first signs appeared of ‘light’ music entering a period when its popularity was dented by the emergence of ‘modern’ music trends in which melody and harmony were often sacrificed. However, contrary to the opinion of a few, ‘light music’ was never killed off and continues to be enjoyed by many – thanks to many amateur orchestras and bands throughout the UK and also to the BBC’s non-stop ‘Friday Night is Music Night’. In the Norfolk area the part played by the Sillars Orchestra in making ‘light’ music available to many followers is known to be appreciated.
But back in 1963 the Orchestra entered almost four decades when conductors came and went, rehearsal venues changed and the challenges of planning and administering the affairs of the Sillars Orchestra were ever present. Frank King became principal conductor immediately after Archie Sillars and Ralph Dye became deputy conductor. When Mr King died in 1982, Ralph Dye became Sillars sole conductor and carried the role with distinction for about seven years during which time the Orchestra’s rehearsals and Library were moved from Princes Street to Rosebery Road Methodist Church and later to the United Reformed Church on the Ipswich Road in Norwich. In 1989, Ralph Dye swapped his baton for administrative duties when Hilary Jones took charge to be followed by a Susan Booth, then Maggie Smith.
In 2000 Barry Bryant was appointed principal conductor and was instrumental in changing the Orchestra’s name to the Sillars Light Orchestra to reflect the type of music in which it had always specialised. At the same time he increased the flow of new music into the Orchestra’s Library and concert repertoire. Membership gradually increased and the standard of playing moved further upwards. This trend was continued and improved upon by the Orchestra’s conductor, Patrick Meehan, who was appointed in January 2008.
Recent years have witnessed large strides in the Orchestra’s continual development for it is widely recognised that the Sillars provides wonderful opportunities for local amateur musicians and public to enjoy live music. In 2005, some members – led by Ralph Dye – formed the Sillars Wind Band to work alongside the long standing “SPAM” (‘Sillars Pleasant Afternoon Music!’) Ensemble, which was formed in 1986. The aim of both of these smaller ‘offshoots’ was to concentrate on entertaining the elderly. This diversification within the Orchestra’s membership is an example of how Sillars remains aware of the need to share its music with those in our community who otherwise would rarely experience live performances; people confined to healthcare settings such as residential homes etc. where venues are too small to accommodate the full Sillars Orchestra.
Today, the Sillars Orchestra is bigger and better suited to meet present day demands, particularly the fund raising concert requests that come from the community at large. As ever, the Orchestra does not receive any help or support from sponsors or trusts; remaining a completely independent and self supporting ensemble of amateur musicians of mixed age and gender. It continues to be based here in the fine city of Norwich, in the county of Norfolk, which nestles in the top most reaches of East Anglia, a region with strong musical traditions. The Orchestra’s continuing aim is to provide a platform for its members to enjoy music making of the lighter ‘easy listening’ variety and to encourage all like minded musicians to share in the unique experience of playing its chosen style. Through the efforts and enthusiasm of musicians the Sillars Light Orchestra is able to entertain audiences, particularly those who come together in support of charity and fund raising events wherever they are held throughout Norfolk and into Suffolk.
In 2011 we simplified our name again back to “Sillars Orchestra” and have since changed rehearsal venue again, this time to Colman Road Junior School, Norwich.
As of January 2015, we said hello and welcome to conductor, Tadeusz Kasnowski. Tadeusz has a wealth of experience conducting with some famous conductors, and was instrumental in turning around the standard of the orchestra. Under his guidance, the standard of playing dramatically improved, the membership of the orchestra has increased, and this has led to the orchestra playing in bigger venues. By raising the standard, audience numbers improved with many returning and supporting the orchestra.
While rehearsing with Taduesz, the orchestra connected closer with local soloists and singers, and created a friendship with the East Norfolk Operatic Society, who perform and lead the audience in many audience participation songs and Christmas carols.
In 2018, Tadeusz left the orchestra, and the orchestra welcomes Frakie Ayers to take the orchestra forward.