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Year Ending 31st December 2006

City of Sunderland Millennium Orchestral Society


Established October 1999. Charity Registration Number 1082431


    I intend to make this brief. Having previously discussed the format of the AGM with fellow committee members, we decided to try to keep the business part of this evening as concise as possible, hopefully within the hour. I have also taken the liberty of inviting our Musical Director, Rupert Hanson, to give a short report on the Orchestra's progress. However we wish to invite you all afterwards to stay for light refreshments and to attend a short rehearsal of the Orchestra. After all, this is what we do best - the music that is, not the tea.


    The story is told that a famous Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, was once introduced to the organist at a big rehearsal in St. Paul's Cathedral. The Archbishop was notoriously non‑musical, and he said to him that he was sorry but he'd never heard of him. The organist was no less a musician than the great Ralph Vaughan Williams. Seven or eight years ago nobody had heard of the Sunderland Symphony Orchestra. Even when we played at various churches and halls around the city (and they were so desperate for violinists I was in it even then), including performing on summer afternoons in Mowbray Park bandstand. I would never have dreamt that one day this very ensemble would be performing, albeit much augmented, in the Sage Gateshead to warm revues, or being interviewed as we were two weeks ago by local newspapers and BBC Look North at the prestigious Stadium of Light with footballing hero Niall Quinn. I cannot resist this one ‑ maybe it helps an organisation to have an Irish chairman! Some of our string  players that shall remain nameless were quite the stars on television. Although their was a nice picture of the top of David McCourt's violin, albeit no full image of our leader himself.


    Surely this is massive progress in such a relatively short space of time? I will not weary you with the detail of every concert we have played ‑ a huge variety of music from the classical repertoire, opera, operetta, and even "pops" including Abba has been performed in a number of different venues. These include Holy Trinity Church in the East End, St. Mary Magdalene Millfield, and Sunderland Minster, where the Christmas Concert was a huge success, performing as we did with the Minster Choir, and introducing a very glamorous and musically stunning saxophone trio. Smaller quartets, and palm court ensemble, have played at business functions and strawberry teas. Other venues have included the Crowtree Leisure Centre and the riverside setting of the Sunderland Yacht Club: Although the good people of that worthy organisation particularly requested the great British national tunes such as Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem, it also happened to be St. Patrick's Day and a violinist that shall remain nameless suggested some flute, fiddle and bodhran music that went down nicely with the Irish stew. We even played at the Blue Bell Inn in Fulwell for a Christmas Victorian evening. This sheer adaptability of the SSO these days speaks volumes of the committed musicians of all ages who turn up every Wednesday to rehearse. This augers well for the future.


    This means we can now look forward to playing "light" music in smaller ensembles at such prestigious venues being negotiated like Beamish Museum, Gateshead Flower Festival, Sunderland Airshow, and various National Trust/English Heritage properties in the region. AND still tackling the larger symphonic works relating to the Concert Hall. In all of this, opportunity is constantly being given to soloists within the orchestra, and to the several very talented singers we have been privileged to work with. On the subject of vocals, we have also enjoyed performing with the East End Chorus, which is part of the Music for All project. Indeed a number of them will be joining with us when we travel northwards once again to partake in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. We have also benefited from the musical direction of our Guest Conductor Greg Pullen.


     I do not want to steal Rupert's thunder, so I quickly want to say a few profound "thank‑yous". First to the players themselves - a reliable core turn up every rehearsal come rain or shine. Even although at times we have to say farewell to players when they move away. We still miss our horn‑player and guest conductor, Gary Nichols who is now working in Texas, and just a week ago one of our young first violins, Sarah Muir returned to her native Ayrshire. We were really saddened to say a final farewell to violinist Sid Ross when he passed away, and were honoured to have performed his "Simonside" composition. On a happier note, two of our young lady musicians are getting married ‑ clarinet player Donna Watlen this week in London, and principal cello Jane Carpenter in September; we are glad they are not leaving the orchestra.


    At this juncture I would like to thank the Minister and office‑bearers of West Park Church for providing a rehearsal room and storage space, and to Diana Hauber's dad for making the tea every Wednesday. A particular debt of gratitude most go to a very hard‑working and dedicated committee who nowadays share with the chairman a very collective style of leadership. I am twice the age of most of them but I am delighted that they are most vocal in making their views and abilities known! I cannot emphasize this strongly enough ‑ when we sat down to our first committee together we were determined that we should reflect most strongly the views of the playing members of the Orchestra especially, and not just the Conductor or the Chairman. However as good musicians we do listen to the Conductor sometimes - and even occasionally give a glance in his direction! For these reasons of a strong sense of collective responsibility and a commitment to a collaborative style of working,  we jointly offer our services for another year. There is always a danger in naming individuals, but as you will see in few minutes time, we are particularly grateful to Heather Wear for the onerous task of keeping the books and the membership details, as well as producing the news‑sheet. As Hon. Secretary Diana Hauber has the unenviable task of keeping committee minutes and de‑coding my notes from time to time. Still - as a violinist - she can read ‑. I would also like to pay tribute once again to my worthy predecessor David Mills as chairman, and his wife Kathleen who was Hon. Treasurer.


    For a society such as the City of Sunderland Millennium Orchestral Society, and I do prefer it to CoSMOS, which sounds unintentionally like a spaceship, partnerships and good working relationships with others making music is vital. We enjoy a particularly close relationship with Music for All, whose project leader is Rupert Hanson and who is also our Musical Director. I was chairman of both organisations, but have recently relinquished my chairmanship of MforA. A lot of discussion was engendered around this at the last AGM, and one of the tasks the new committee was charged with was to clarify our relationship. Indeed at one stage we had correspondence from the MforA fund‑raiser, Mr. David Britten, inviting CoSMOS to become part of their organisation. After very serious consideration, the committee decided unanimously NOT to proceed in this direction, but to maintain our independence as a financially viable and vibrant organisation. There is only one Sunderland Symphony Orchestra, and that is registered to, and managed by, CoSMOS. This fact is recorded by the Charity Commissioners. BUT, we thoroughly enjoy, promote, encourage, and our grateful for, our close relationship with MforA. Through MforA and its Youth Orchestra we have a steady stream of young people who enter the SSO when ability and maturity afford this (the committee recently decided to have a minimum age of sixteen for playing in the SSO). We are also proud to be promoted by MforA, who have such contacts and opportunities that we would be unable to fulfil alone. To this end, I think we should all be thankful to the one person for whom I make no apology for giving the lion's share of appreciation; our inspiration, our enthusiasm, our Maestro, Rupert Hanson. Thank you for patiently listening.


(Rev) Stephen D. Hazlett.

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Copyright 2010 D E Mills