Risingholme Orchestra and its continuing history post earthquakes – a tale of wandering minstrels
Risingholme Orchestra was formed in 1991 by a group who wanted to cater for older players by rehearsing during the daytime. It has met at Risingholme Theatre in Opawa, an old style school hall, on a Thursday morning where a large enough rehearsal space was available and equipment could be stored. Members of the orchestra have largely been in the over 60s category although younger players have also been welcome. The Orchestra has given public concerts two or three times a year and these are always a goal to be worked towards. At the beginning of 2011 there were about 55 members.
When the earthquake of 4th September 2010 occurred we were able to continue using Risingholme Theatre as it was not damaged and we were preparing for the planned November concert. However, at least one member lost her home though a number of us were not greatly affected.
We began the new year of 2011 in the usual way with a new rehearsal programme. With the February 22nd earthquake all was to change as we were suddenly without our rehearsal space; Risingholme Theatre was deemed unable to be occupied and was yellow-stickered. So many rehearsal places and concert venues were lost and there was a scramble to find suitable spaces. Our patron, John Emmeleus, had suggested that St Paul’s Church hall in Papanui could be a possible rehearsal venue. The Orchestra did not meet on the Thursday following the earthquake as so many of us were in alternative accommodation and facing the prospect of demolition or major repairs to our homes. One of our flute players, Donna Tairakena, lost her husband in the collapse of the CTV building. Nine days after the earthquake our conductor, Tony Ferner, suggested that those who were available should meet at his home for morning tea and then adjourn to St Paul’s Church Hall for a short rehearsal. About thirty players were able to come and take part in that first rehearsal post earthquake. Some photographs were taken at that time and a member commented that in retrospect the assembled group looked rather shell shocked.
The orchestra continued to meet at St Paul’s for some weeks, preparing for the concert in May in the Elmwood School auditorium. This venue had previously been booked for the concert and was fortunately not damaged. As time progressed and more of the players returned the lack of space at the St Paul’s hall proved to be a problem. (It was two years before some key players were able to rejoin the orchestra but we were able to employ a few professionals to fill the gaps for concert performances).
By the middle of the year (June 2011) we moved to a new rehearsal space in the church hall of St Martins Presbyterian Church. One of our players, Bernard Brettell, was a parishioner and organised this for us. The equipment (percussion, timpani and music and chairs) which had been stored at the Risingholme Theatre was finally removed and the Church gave us storage space for it. At each rehearsal the chairs were moved from storage to the Hall and returned to storage after rehearsal. We thought we were happily settled for some time but it was not to be. The Church Hall was red stickered later in 2011 following the June earthquake and was subsequently demolished. The Church very kindly allowed us to use the Church itself; this meant that before each rehearsal the pews had to be moved and repositioned at the end of the morning. We appreciated the rehearsal space but it was a considerable effort each day to make the space available. We found ourselves competing with a large craft group for the limited toilet facilities and battled the long walk carrying instruments to and from our cars while road works continued outside the Church for many months. To our dismay the Church was deemed to be a safety risk in August of 2012 and was red-stickered. Once again we were on the move, this time to the Woolston Club which had been suggested as a possible venue by the Orchestra’s trombone player, Jill Fenton. The Club has been most accommodating so that we have a large rehearsal space and storage for the timpani, easy parking and great facilities. Rooms are also available when we require them for sectional rehearsals and we continue to rehearse there at the time of writing, more than four years after the initial earthquake. With our move to the Woolston Club we realised how much more work it had been at the Church but our determination to continue had seen us through very challenging times.
Our chairperson, Helen Reddecliffe, in her report for the 2011 AGM said, “After the recent earthquakes, many of us are taking a second look at our priorities and finding that Risingholme Orchestra on Thursday mornings is an integral part of life that we look forward to. I do not doubt that we need bread, butter and toilets, but I cannot live for these alone! Now more than ever it is important to engage in activities “for the soul”. While we sadly miss those no longer with us, we continue as a cohesive group and the excitement is mounting as we now tackle the new repertoire for our next concert.”
In 2012 the orchestra was approached by the Kaiapoi Theatre Company to provide players for a concert version of the musical Chess, which they were to present in September of that year. Thirty seven players of our players agreed to provide the orchestra and with extra weekend rehearsals we prepared for the two concert performances. We felt that we were contributing to the community at a time when there was little entertainment and so many people were living in intolerable conditions. While the Chess rehearsals were going on, about 20 members took part in chamber music groups at our regular rehearsal times.
Our outreach in to the community has also involved taking short programmes to schools; Darfield in 2011, Waltham in 2012, West Spreydon in 2013 and Addington and Philipstown in 2014.
Performance venues in Christchurch have become more difficult to find since the earthquakes and we have been fortunate to be able to use the Elmwood School Auditorium and when this was not available we secured the Avonhead School Hall.
At the time of writing about 80% of our players are senior citizens with several in their 90s and a number in their 80s. It has been an important meeting point for the group since the earthquakes as it has provided a regular focus on music when so much has been happening in members’ lives. Hardly anyone has been left untouched by the damage the earthquakes have caused to their homes and the continuing temporary moves required for repairs or rebuilds is stress-inducing. That the Orchestra has survived the many moves of rehearsal venues is testament to the importance of its continuance in the lives of its players as well as the willingness of our conductor, Tony Ferner, to provide us with the will and inspiration to make good music.
Compiled by Lyndsay Fenwick, Helen Reddecliffe and Philippa Graham