Monday April 06 2020



Village Music & Drama

Secrets of our success

Posted on October 03 2016 at 3:30:05 0 comments


Keith Woolford chats to Marian Barwell, chair of Alvechurch’s very own orchestra.

One of this area’s best-kept secrets has been going since 1995. No, not the horrendous traffic problems around Bromsgrove, but something altogether sweeter: music to the ears, no less!

For the second interview in this series, I’ve been invited into the home of Marian Barwell, chair of The Midland Sinfonia (TMS).

She and her fellow committee members dedicate much time to fashioning an attractive series of concerts with the aim of appealing not only to enthusiast but also those new to the genre.

Based in Alvechurch, there is much going on for the coming new and special season of concerts.

KW: It’s not every village that can boast a professional orchestra…

MB: True! We’re very pleased to be based here at St Laurence Church since the very first TMS concert.

We have great support from the village, we are very much a part of it and there’s always something interesting going on.

People living in Alvechurch can always keep themselves busy! Many of the local people attend our concerts and give us great support.

This coming season celebrates a milestone for TMS – what do you have planned?

Well, it’s our 21st season and we are going to celebrate our 21st birthday! We have a new Music Director joining us this year; he has his own ideas for the future of the orchestra.

We have a variety of different concerts planned for the season from jazz to traditional classical.

How did the orchestra come about – who was its founder?

Nigel Morley, who was a resident of Alvechurch and connected to music generally, thought it would be good to try to start a local orchestra.

He just asked friends and neighbours to support him. He chose a secretary and a treasurer and started to invite players to play at St Laurence Church.

Richard Laing took over when Nigel headed north to live in Lincolnshire.

Funding the arts must be a continual challenge for you. I can’t imagine that it’s easy to maintain costs during the season – how do you manage?

It really wouldn’t be possible without the support of our sponsors and patrons, who are most generous in their donations. And, this year, we are delighted that The Elmley Foundation are also supporting us.

How important is having charity status for TMS?

Exceedingly important. We can claim Gift Aid on donations and it also gives us a certain credibility with the public.

No man or woman is an island – what support team do you have?

Well, there are just six of us on our committee, the Board of Trustees. Both Sarah Carless and Mysie Raine have been with us since conception of The Midland Sinfonia, which was in 1995.

We have Simon Raine, who’s taken over as treasurer, and Elizabeth Waters who looks after our publicity. We are also delighted to have Sue Peters on board, who joined us recently.

Anyone who attends your concerts readily acknowledges that the performances are of high quality – where do the musicians come from?

They’re drawn from the area all around Worcestershire really. Of course the line-up of musicians who play at a particular concert is the choice of the Music Director.

You mentioned that you have a new Music Director on board. I understand that the last performance of the outgoing director, Richard Laing, was quite an emotional concert?

Yes, it was, it was indeed. Richard had been with the orchestra for 14 years and was Music Director for ten. He took the orchestra a long way forward and we were very sorry to see him go.

We’re thrilled that Nic Fallowfield has now joined us, not only as Music Director but also to conduct and to play in concerts.

What drew you to TMS – do you have a ‘classical’ background?

No, not really. I’ve always enjoyed classical music – I did play piano until I was about 15, then retired from that and went on to horses. But in fact, I do enjoy it and attend other concerts whenever I can.

Each year you have a concert to kick off the Christmas season – what’s so special about these offerings?

It’s always by candlelight, and the church looks absolutely magical. The music we play at the candlelit concert has a seasonal flavour. It’s always a popular concert.

One of the orchestra’s missions is to promote young performers – how do you go about this?

We have an annual Young Musicians’ Showcase. This coming one will be in February and will be our tenth.

We contact music teachers and schools in the area and ask if they have any pupils who would like to come and perform in front of an appreciative audience. It gives the youngsters an opportunity to stand and play which helps to prepare them for taking their exams.

It is a real confidence boost for them, and all their music teachers say it helps them considerably. We have sponsors to support this.

Thanks to Marian for a very pleasant visit and the tasty fruit tea!

The Midland Sinfonia’s 2016/17 season begins on Saturday October 22 – see What’s On for full details or visit

The filmed interview will be available at Keith Woolford’s YouTube Channel.

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