In one of only a handful of creative endeavours that sees town meet gown, St Andrews and Fife Community Orchestra (StAFCO) is an exciting collaborative project which brings together players of varying abilities from both the University and local area, the University’s music centre, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Founded in 1988 as an informal group for instrumental players with nowhere to play, StAFCO is now under the musical direction of University of St Andrews Music Consultant Gillian Craig, and is going from strength to strength.
The orchestra, who now rehearse in Younger Hall from 7:15 pm – 9:30 pm on Wednesday evenings, prides itself on revolving around cooperation and inclusion, both of which can be seen very strongly through their partnerships, membership, and bi-annual concerts.
Ms Craig told The Saint that StAFCO is a “wonderful blend of students, towns folk, and visitors from much further afield, coming together to have fun playing music.” She continued, “All are welcome which is unusual because most orchestras require an audition, which can be off-putting to many and terrifying to some. Whatever your level of ability and experience, if you are happy, we are happy to have you with us.”
Examples of this inclusivity can be seen both in the lack of auditions to the group, and the fact that StAFCO is unusual as an orchestra in that it includes saxophonists. “We not only accept, but positively welcome saxophones,” commented Ms Craig, “although only rarely used in orchestras, we always have a part for you.”
Orchestra leader and principal violinist Rebecca Clulow is in her third year studying for a PhD in Chemistry. Ms Clulow also plays with the University Symphony Orchestra, but told The Saint that she continues to attend StAFCO because “it’s still something I enjoy hugely,” and something through which she has gotten to know so many new people, both students and locals. Ms Clulow continued by crediting the welcoming and relaxed atmosphere created by Ms Craig and the entire group as a drawing point of the orchestra, as well as the opportunity to ignore any divide between students and locals and work as one community, “Through StAFCO, we get to meet a huge variety of people including both students and locals whilst doing something we all enjoy, bringing us closer together as a community.”
The “town and gown” partnership is certainly massively appreciated by all involved. The Graduate Trainee of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) and University of St Andrews Music Centre, Rufus Sullivan, described STAFCO as “a useful bridge between the University and local people.” He emphasised these strong relations as “one of [the orchestra’s] purposes and an aim for both the Music Centre and SCO.” Mr Sullivan is a former student now appointed as a liaison between the University and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. StAFCO are fortunate to benefit from this partnership with this world class orchestra, who provide players for sectional rehearsals throughout the semester, and a soloist who traditionally plays a concerto with the orchestra in their spring concert.
Commenting on this relationship and his work with both the University and SCO, Mr Sullivan said, “The graduate trainee position strengthened the ties between the SCO and the University when it was created a few years ago. Now there are several masterclasses for students with world-class musicians every year, side-by-side concerts between SCO musicians and university students, and also many performances from the SCO and SCO musicians that provide an opportunity for local people and students to enjoy the orchestra close at hand.”
Additionally, the SCO has an expanding residency in the local community aiming to involve people of all ages in performance with the children’s, youth, and community orchestras. There are now also likely to be educational ties with local schools with musicians working to educate all children regardless of their performance desires. These SCO-provided opportunities lend themselves perfectly to an orchestra which already revolves around collaborations. Mr Sullivan stressed that the “hard work and dedication” of Ms Craig was the driving force behind the running of the group, but additionally acknowledged that “the support of the SCO and its musicians goes a long way to provide the unique learning opportunity that StAFCO provides. He said,“Without the Music Centre, SCO and its funders StAFCO wouldn’t be able to function with the freedom that it does and I am sure everyone involved in the orchestra is very grateful for the fantastic opportunities that are provided for them.” This gratitude was echoed by Ms Craig, who said, “The University is incredibly fortunate to have the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as its Orchestra in Residence.” As well as playing concerts and linking with student music-making, the orchestra’s outreach team, Connect, includes support for StAFCO. “We receive coaching sessions from members of the orchestra, and every year are given a soloist to play a concerto with us. It’s such a privilege for us to make music with musicians of such calibre. Last year we gave a very special performance of Weber’s Concertino with Principal Clarinettist Maximiliano Martin.” These concerts, which are held in April and November each year, are yet another example of the cooperative ambiance of StAFCO. As well as an SCO guest featuring in their April repertoire, they invite a selection of local talent to join them on stage for their winter performance.
This year’s winter concert will be held at 7 pm on Wednesday 29 November in Younger Hall and StAFCO will perform a repertoire with a Scottish theme, on the eve of St Andrews Day, including ‘The Land of the Mountain and the Flood’ by Hamish MacCunn (considered one of the most “Scottish” pieces ever), Scottish folk songs with the opportunity for some audience participation, Auld Lang Syne, and many more.
Special guests will be the St Andrews Children and Youth Orchestras and Choirs, as well as some surprise performances on the night. It is sure to be an evening of fantastic music, a little patriotism, and a lot of town and gown collaboration.
“Admission is free and all are welcome, so please, everybody come” Ms Craig urged, noting that the members’ enthusiasm, commitment, sense of working together as a team, and the mix of players of all levels of musical experience playing together is, for her, what makes it all worthwhile.