The orchestra traces its origin to 1907. Its first players came together as the result of a Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) class. It took some years for the orchestra to settle on its name, not least because of the intervention of World War 1. The program of the seventh concert, given in 1924, refers to the WEA Orchestra. However, the subsequent concert programme in 1925 bore the present name, the Woodbridge Orchestral Society.
The Society was at first essentially a string orchestra. It met in the St Mary’s rooms until 1955. By that time there was a greater number of woodwind and brass players so a larger rehearsal space was required and the orchestra moved accordingly to the Red Cross rooms in Seckford Street.
In 1966 the WEA orchestra became a class offered by the local authority Adult Education Centre. The new arrangement gave the orchestra access to more congenial and spacious surroundings in Burkitt Road at the St Mary’s Church of England Primary School. Its members paid the equivalent of 75p per term.
As a result of the rising cost of adult education classes and of changes in local authority arrangements, the orchestra became in 1988 an ‘affiliated class’. This returned it to an independent status, still with its open and diverse membership, and also for many more years its use of St Mary’s Primary School. In more recent years the orchestra has moved once more. It now meets, rehearses and performs in the comfortable and more modern space of the Woodbridge Methodist Church in St John’s Street, with membership open as ever to musicians in the local and regional community.
|Dr Preston||1910 – 1911|
|Mrs Capel-Cure||1927 - 1931|
|Mr Roger Quilter||1932 - 1953|
|Honourable Lady Gwynnedd Quilter||1954 - 1960|
|Dr Imogen Holst||1961 - 1984|
|Mr James Butt||1985|
|Mr Bernard Barrell||1986 - 2005|
|Mr David Lloyd||2005 - 2018|
|H M Timbers||1907 - 1920|
|Alfred J. Dye||1920 - 1931|
|Philip Haines||1931 - 1954|
|Bernard Barrell||1954 - 1985|
|James Butt||1985 - 1988|
|Andrew Fairley||1988 - 2000|
|Neville Reeder||2000 - 2014|
|Christopher Robinson||2014 - 2020|
The headmaster of the Woodbridge Council School in 1907, a Mr Timbers was the orchestra’s first director and conductor. The organisation first appointed a President in 1910. In 1921 Mr Timbers handed over the baton to Alfred Dye, but continued to play double-bass in the orchestra.
Alfred Dye was born in Lowestoft in 1850 and held organist positions in London before returning to Suffolk at St Mary’s Church, Woodbridge in 1907. He became a much respected local music teacher, arranger and composer. He directed the orchestra from 1921 until 1931 when ill-health led him to resign. He died in Woodbridge on 28 October 1932.
Mr Philip Haines was the music master at Woodbridge School and when he took up the baton in 1931, he had played violin in the orchestra for six years. After maintaining local music-making through World War II, he was appointed in the mid-1940s as conductor of the Woodbridge Choral Society, directing both societies until his sudden death in 1954.
The orchestra was fortunate to have from that time a lengthy period of leadership by Bernard Barrell. His own compositions enriched the orchestra’s work, particularly through miniatures written with amateur orchestras in mind. The compositions reflected the character and landscape of East Anglia. His Fugue for Strings was performed in 1956, Holiday Overture in 1961, 1966 and 1969 (as well as rather more recently), Concertino for flute and strings in 1964, Salute to Stravinski in 1971 and Suffolk Celebration in 1977.
Bernard’s associates in the music world included Imogen Holst who was WOS President for much of his period as Director and who herself wrote three special works for the orchestra. Bernard Barrell gave sensitive and well-informed leadership to the orchestra until forced to resign by the serious illness of his wife Joyce.
After a short interregnum in which direction was provided by James Butt, leadership was taken on by a well-known local musician, Andrew Fairley. He had a very musical career that included the Grenadier guards, music teaching and publishing. Neville Reeder took over in 2000. Whilst working abroad for the European Space agency in Darmstadt, Germany, he was a keen choral conductor. On returning to Suffolk, he conducted a number of oratorios with St Mary’s Church in Capel St Mary and accelerated his skills as a conductor.
In 2014, Christopher Robinson stepped up from the French Horn in the orchestra to succeed Neville on his retirement. Chris was another of our Directors with a military musical training as well as being a music teacher and publisher.
From 2020, Paul Benyon stepped in as acting music director from his position as a double bassist in the orchestra. Paul has also composed a number of pieces for the orchestra. He took on the role just as the country went into lockdown because of coronavirus.
A complete record of past seasons’ music can be found in the archive.