About the Orchestra

Burnley Orchestra is alive and over a century old, We encourage all budding musicians and lapsed  musicians who’d like to be playing again and anyone else who plays an orchestral instrument to come along and sample the joy of being a part of a big group of like-minded people. We look forward to welcoming you along – please take a look at the rehearsal schedule for more details.

When Burnley Orchestra first started, just after the First World War, it immediately attracted players who wanted to play the major works of the classical repertoire. Then, as now, the musical theatre scene was very popular and silent films were starting to spring up, both these required orchestras to accompany the songs in one and the action in the other. Many of those who played worked then in the local mills and earned extra income by going onto theatres and cinemas in the evenings to man those bands. And as these performances were often every evening from Monday to Saturday, it explains why our concerts are still often on Sundays.

Many of these amateur musicians, however, also welcomed a chance to play more serious works – and the young orchestra benefited from members who had a wealth of experience in practical musicianship.

Over the 90 years since then, the orchestra has rehearsed and performed in very many venues around the town – in theatres which no longer exist, in school halls, a sports hall and even in a nightclub! – and, latterly, back in the restored Mechanics Theatre and now at St Peter’s Parish Church. Many members – and conductors – have come and gone. Many young players have gone on to study music and become professional players or music teachers. Some have returned as professional soloists with the orchestra. It is pleasing to note that two of our current members are at least the second generation in the orchestra – Patricia Chippendale (oboe) whose father Jim played bassoon for many years, and Pauline Rigby (flute) whose father Ken Hartley led the double-bass section.

One of the orchestra’s roles, apart from performing purely orchestra works, is to accompany the Burnley Choir which was started a year or so later. At first they had separate conductors but in more recent times both have benefitted from having the same person at rehearsals and in the concerts – an expertise that not all wielders of the baton can master! So, Burnley has enjoyed something that few small towns can boast – symphony orchestra and choral society able to perform some of the best works in the repertoire.

In these days, when there are so many other attractions, and so much recorded music, and when even professional orchestras are finding it difficult to attract audiences, we are determined to continue our long tradition of performing live music in Burnley.

Judith David