Sillars 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 he later expanded its remit so that the group would perform concerts for other local charities and worthy causes.
From our beginning, and up to the years of the Second World War, our orchestra was known as the St. Michael’s Orchestra and we rehearsed at St. Michael at Plea Church in Norwich. In the 1940s, St Michael’s amalgamated with the Princes Street Congregational Church PSA Band, changing our name to The Sillars Light Orchestra. Archie Sillars continued to conduct us until his death in 1963.
Introducing ‘light music’
The departure of our first conductor came just before the first signs of ‘light’ music appeared, and this new style was soon adopted into our orchestra’s repertoire. However, this was followed by a drop in the style’s popularity thanks to the emergence of ‘modern’ music trends (in which melody and harmony were often sacrificed!).
Despite this, light music was never completely killed off and it is still enjoyed by many, thanks to a host of amateur orchestras like ours and bands throughout the UK, as well as the BBC’s non-stop ‘Friday Night is Music Night’.
Challenges and changes
In 1963, we entered almost four decades in which 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, while Ralph Dye became Deputy Conductor. When Mr King died in 1982, Ralph Dye became our sole Conductor, carrying the role with distinction for about seven years. During this time our rehearsals and library were moved from Princes Street to Rosebery Road Methodist Church, and later to the United Reformed Church on Ipswich Road in Norwich. In 1989, Ralph Dye swapped his baton for administrative duties, handing his former role over to Hilary Jones. She was followed by Susan Booth and then Maggie Smith.
In 2000, Barry Bryant was appointed Principal Conductor. He was instrumental in changing our name to the Sillars Light Orchestra to reflect the type of music we specialised in. At the same time he increased the flow of new music into our library and concert repertoire. Membership gradually increased and the standard of playing moved further upwards. This trend was continued and improved upon by Patrick Meehan, who was appointed as Conductor in January 2008.
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 is an example of how we remain committed to sharing music with those in our community who would otherwise rarely experience live performances.
In 2011, we simplified our name once again to Sillars Orchestra, changing our rehearsal venue to Colman Road Junior School, Norwich.
In 2015, we welcomed Conductor Tadeusz Kasnowski. Tadeusz was instrumental in turning around the standard of our orchestra. Under his guidance, the standard of playing dramatically improved and our membership increased. This led to us playing in bigger venues. By raising the standard, audience numbers also improved, with many returning to support us.
While rehearsing with Taduesz, we began to forge stronger connections with local soloists and singers. We also began a friendship with the East Norfolk Operatic Society, who went on to perform and lead our audiences in many songs and Christmas carols.
In 2018, Tadeusz left the orchestra and Ian Hÿtch took over as our Musical Director. Ian worked as a teacher for more than 50 years and brought decades of conducting experience to the role. His background included work with international soloists such as Dennis Matthews, Atarah-Ben-Tovim, Emma Johnson and Christopher Keyte, and work on productions such as ‘La Traviata’ with Bryan Drake and ‘Carmen’ with Geoffrey Davies.
Under his direction, our orchestra continued to flourish, despite interruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic. In early 2023, Ian handed over his baton to our current Musical Director, Zoe Clare Ramsden.
The orchestra today
Today, we are bigger and better suited to meet present day demands, particularly the fundraising concert requests that come from our wider community.
We’re still based in the fine city of Norwich, Norfolk and our repertoire continues to favour light music, as well as well-known classical pieces, staying true to our heritage.
An an independent orchestra, we reply upon our amazing audiences to support our music-making. Please keep an eye on our concert list to find out when our next performance is, and show your support by attending.
Come and see the Sillars Orchestra at the following events.