A Brief History of the Pelly Concert Orchestra

This history has been compiled largely from documentation from the archives and from interviews with Paddy Mansfield, one of the founding members of the orchestra. There is virtually no documentation prior to 1980, and as a result it was been very difficult to determine clearly the dates and sequence of events. It is hoped that the following account will jog some memories and that further information will be forthcoming.

The orchestra appears to have started in 1967 or 1968 in Yateley. Jack Stilwell, a local resident and benefactor, after whom Yateley's Stilwell Close was named, had put an article in the Yateley parish magazine inviting players to form an orchestra. Only about three people turned up at the first meeting at Jack's house in Stevens Hill. One of those attending was John Lewis, who had been trained at Kneller Hall and who went on to become the nascent orchestra's conductor. According to Paddy, “He was very good, and very professional.” Oboist Barry Collisson joined only a few weeks later and at the time of writing is the longest-serving member of the orchestra. Another early member was flautist and organiser of the committee William “Drummy” Baldwin, who used to ride the drum horse in Trooping the Colour, and who eventually became a Chelsea pensioner.
The first couple of rehearsals were held at Jack's house, but it rapidly became apparent that there was no room for expansion, and the orchestra moved to Moor House in Moulsham Lane, Yateley, at that time the home of Pat Draycott (née Walker). Pat is thought to have joined the orchestra in 1968, a short time after it had started. To begin with there were only about 6 or 7 members, but it rapidly expanded to over twenty, and within about a year there was no longer enough room in Moor House.
It was some time before the orchestra started to give concerts, and there was no regular schedule of public appearances. Perhaps the first serious concert was that which took place in the Wokingham Theatre one December: the precise date is unknown, but it is believed to have been “in the late 1960's”. A contemporary newspaper cutting shows a photograph of the orchestra, clearly taken at the same time as the one reproduced here, with the caption “
Musical venture for theatre” and the following text:
A new line in entertainment comes to Wokingham Theatre on Sunday, December 1. A concert of light classical music is being given by the 28-strong Yateley Orchestra conducted by John Lewis. The two hour concert will include music from Faust and a selection from Mary Poppins. Yateley Orchestra has been going for nine months and includes members from Crowthorne, Sandhurst and Yateley areas.

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The photograph shows:
Front row, left to right:
Mr Rayburn, Doris Curry, Paddy Mansfield, Pat Draycott, John Lewis (Conductor), Alan Hammer, Helen Lewis (wife of John Lewis), Marjory Pryer at the piano.
Back row, left to right:
Unidentified, William “Drummy” Baldwin, Unidentified, Jack Stilwell, Unidentified (possibly a dep).

Although the original name was
Yateley Orchestra, some time later it was re-named the Yateley Light Orchestra, not so much a conscious decision that there would be a focus on light music, although it did indicate the nature of the repertoire, but more a simple reflection of the music the orchestra could lay its hands on. Paddy commented that “we had no music when we started, but a lot of military bands were disbanding at that time, and they all did orchestral music as well, so we welcomed anything we could get”.
The next rehearsal venue was Yateley Hall Convent, in Firgrove Road, where there was much more room, even a stage, and the occasional concert was also given there. The nuns seem to have been well disposed towards the orchestra, because at Christmas time the players would be treated to sherry! This may have been influenced by the Reverend Mother Pelly at Yateley Convent. She was a playing member and an enthusiastic supporter of the orchestra. When the junior school at the Convent closed down, she moved to Farnborough Convent, where she was known just as Sister Pelly.
Although the orchestra continued to rehearse at Yateley, it gave concerts at Farnborough Convent, where it became well enough acquainted with the nuns to be given food – for a time at least, but it seems likely that someone objected to such (mis)use of the Convent's assets and eventually the party was over.

In those days the orchestra gave concerts in all sorts of places, often by invitation and not always as self-promoted concerts. One such concert had to be cancelled because the flute player objected to playing for Masonic events! A number of concerts were given at the MVEE (Military Vehicles Engineering Establishment) at Longcross. Paddy reported that “there used to be a military flavour to the concerts. The Queen first, then overture, march or waltz – there was a definite order of things.” Drummy obtained many extra players through his army connections.

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In 1980 the orchestra was re-named in memory of Sister Pelly, the Mother Superior of Yateley Convent who had been an enthusiastic supporter and playing member of the orchestra until her death[from cancer] in 1977.” (Farnham Herald)

The Pelly Concert Orchestra, as it was now known, continued to rehearse at Yateley Hall until July 1985. From September of that year the rehearsal day had to change from Tuesday to Monday to fit in with the availability of Frogmore School. However, this was not ideal, partly because the classroom used was too small, and partly because pop groups also rehearsed at Frogmore on the same night. The orchestra reverted to Tuesday nights when it moved to the Catholic Hall, Kings Road, Fleet. Paddy recalled that they were treated very nicely by the priest. “Then he moved and a new one came and he complained bitterly that he didn't like us playing on Tuesday nights.” Apparently, it was suggested that he simply close his window!

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In 1994 the rehearsal venue was changed yet again to its present location at Samuel Cody Specialist Sports College (formaly known as Oak Farm School) and in November that year it was the venue for a concert, which coincidentally was also Michael Fielder's last concert as conductor. Michael had started to play the clarinet at the ager of 15 and shortly after joined the army in the R.A.M.C. Band. By the age of 18 he was their solo clarinet, a position he held for 25 years. He played for many orchestras, and after retirement from the army he remained in Farnborough as teacher, player and clarinettist in the Pelly Concert Orchestra. Mike conducted the orchestra from 1982 until that last concert in November 1994. He then stepped down as conductor and joined the woodwinds as Principal Clarinet, where he served until 2006.

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John Avery took over from Mike as Conductor, giving his first concert on 4th Feb 1995 – a film and television music spectacular. John was affectionately known in the profession as “the lightning conductor”, not only because of his penchant for bright tempi, but also because of hectic dashing from studios to concert halls to theatres. His list of conducting credits includes engagements for film, TV and radio in the UK and Europe. He conducted at the Beethovenhalle in Bonn, and even conducted the music at Wembley Stadium for an international soccer match! The orchestra made great progress under John's direction, and notable highlights were the town- twinning trips to Oberursel in November 1999, where the orchestra joined forces with the local string orchestra, and Meudon in March 2002, where it shared a concert with the Choeur de Meudon, having previously collaborated with the Choir when it visited the UK in May 1998.
Back home, concerts had for some time been entirely self-promoted, and the orchestra was giving four or five public concerts a year in a range of venues in Camberley, Aldershot, Farnborough, Hartley Wintney and its birthplace Yateley. John proved especially popular with audience and players alike, as evidenced by the lavish farewell party held in his honour in 2003 when he moved house to Portugal.

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Next to wield the baton was Nick Barnard, who brought to the orchestra his experience in the theatres of London's West End, and his extensive library of delightful, if occasionally obscure and neglected, gems from the light music repertoire.
Nick studied music at the City University, London, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After graduating he specialised in Musical Theatre, conducting and working as Musical Director on many major productions in the West End and around Britain, including
Showboat, My Fair Lady, Jesus Christ Superstar, Fiddler on the Roof, Me and My Girl, Der Herr der Ringe, and the revival of The Pyjama Game.
Nick's attention to detail in rehearsals soon paid off, and he presented some extremely successful concerts. He also impressed everyone with an astonishing ability to convey to the audience his in- depth knowledge of and enthusiasm for the music he had selected. During Nick's tenure a recording of
Bugler's Holiday that was performed in one of the orchestra's concerts was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

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When Nick stepped down after the October 2007 concert, the orchestra was most fortunate to find the young and highly talented oboist Christopher Braime to take over as Musical Director.
Christopher was born in Beverley, Yorkshire in 1983. He was awarded a Foundation Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music where he studied oboe with John Anderson, Christopher Cowie and David Theodore; and conducting with Neil Thomson and Richard Dickins.
Christopher was the Musical Director of the Imperial College String Ensemble from 2003 - 2007 and now works as assistant conductor for the Kensington Philharmonic Orchestra, the Farnborough Symphony Orchestra, and the Sussex Symphony Orchestra.
In 2007 he took up the role of Musical Director of the Pelly Orchestra, and in 2010 Musical Director of the Grosvenor Light Operatic Company. In 2011 Christopher beat significant competition to become Musical Director of the London Gay Symphony Orchestra, and in March 2012 was invited to guest conduct the Redhill Sinfonia.

Chris proved to be enormously popular with audiences and players alike.

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Tom Horn was appointed as Musical Director in March 2015. Tom started playing the violin at the age of four. He played with many youth and amateur orchestras in Kent, Guernsey and London, however it was leading the London Schools Symphony Orchestra under such conductors as Thomas Sanderling, Nicholas Kraemer, and Lief Segerstam that he decided to take the art of conducting more seriously. Studying Music with Acoustics at Southampton University he took every opportunity to gain experience; becoming Leader and Assistant Conductor of both the Symphony Orchestra and the Sinfonietta and setting up his own Concerto Orchestra to conduct. He has studied under some superb tutors, namely Peter Stark, Richard Dickens, Peter Ash, Robin Browning and recently participated in a masterclass with Philip Ellis on Beethoven 5th Symphony.
He became the conductor of the Aylesbury Youth Orchestra in 2008 and has performed regularly at the 'Music For Youth' finals in Birmingham Symphony Hall. Holding the position of Leader and Assistant conductor of the Haslemere Music Society, he has had the opportunity to perform and conduct many major symphonic & operatic works. In 2006 he founded the Charity Symphony Orchestra which has raised over £30,000 for various charities. Tom also enjoys working with the Buckinghamshire County Youth Orchestra as a tutor. Other recent engagements have includincluded conducting the St. Albans Symphony Orchestra, Welwyn Garden City Symphony & Chorus, Buckingham Chamber Orchestra , Sidcup Symphony Orchestra, Bridgenorth Symphonia, London Rehearsal Orchestra, Woking Chamber Orchestra, Didcot & Wallingford Symphony Orchestra and the Trinity Camerata. In September 2013, Tom started working as a Guest Conductor with the Surrey County Youth Orchestra and had the opportunity to have a workshop with Freddie Kempf and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and has been invited back. He has also recently set up a new Orchestra in his hometown of Marlow which is growing in strength and started working towards a Royal Albert Hall concert with the High Wycombe Youth Orchestra in April.

In December 2013 he had his first conducting competition experience competing in the Cadaques International Conducting Competetion and over the Summer he studied with Rodolfo Saglimbeni, Denise Ham and Toby Purser on this years George Hurst Conductors' Course at the Sherborne (formerly Canford) Summer Music School.

Some lean times have been experienced during the past 45 years or so, and recruitment of players too has been an ongoing source of concern ever since the first gathering at Jack Stilwell's house. However until 2011, virtually all concerts had been self-promotions. In February 2011, we were officially granted charity status which has helped balance the books in times of rising running costs and fees. The orchestra continues to be very successful at drawing in audiences. Many would express the view that the concerts have simply become better and better over the years, as players have responded to the entreaties of successive Musical Directors. The current mood is one of optimism, and the rehearsals and concerts are greatly enjoyed by everyone.


John Lewis Major Jackson – was bandmaster at RMA
Lindsay “Dinky” Moore – was bandmaster at RMA
Mike Fielder 1982 – Nov 1994
John Avery 1995 – 2003
Nick Barnard 2003 – Oct 2007
Christopher Braime Nov 2007 – July 2014
Tom Horn March 2015 – present


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Peter Dawkins: 1977 - Nov 1999

Pete Dawkins was a dedicated and enthusiastic musician's musician. Besides teaching violin, he played in many operatic shows, leading the orchestra of the DERA Farnborough Operatic Society for over a decade. When required, Pete would also conduct the Pelly orchestra. The tetchy and gruff exterior was a well-rehearsed façade, according to John Avery, and inside he was a “generous, fun-loving softie”. He suffered a major stroke in 1999 and although he accompanied the orchestra as a friend on the trip to Oberursel, his health had deteriorated significantly and he died in 2001.

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Lena Sugar: Nov 1999 - Oct 2005

Lena studied music in Bucharest, Romania and at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. During her professional career she played in symphonic and chamber orchestras, worked as a session musician and played in theatre shows in Israel.

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Lara Hoccom: Oct 2005 – March 2008

Lara graduated in music from the University of Sheffield, where she had specialised in composition and violin performance, and had led University orchestras. She was Concerts Manager for the English Sinfonia, and Sales & Marketing Executive for the Boosey & Hawkes, before becoming Graphic Designer with Chamberlain Music in Haslemere. She took her Grade 8 piano at the age of 15 and is a qualified teacher of violin and piano. She is a keen composer with several public performances to her credit.

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Amanda Lake : March 2008 – October 2013

Amanda began learning the violin at the age of four. She graduated from the Royal College of Music with a First in 2007, where she was a scholarship student of Dona Lee Croft. She has since studied with Levon Chilingirian and Bela Katona.
Amanda has appeared extensively as a soloist with orchestras across the country, performing works by Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Prokofiev and Berg. In 2010-11 she led the Amadeus Orchestra on tour to China, appearing as soloist in Vaughan Williams'
The Lark Ascending.
She is in demand as an orchestral leader and chamber musician. As a former member of the Alea Quartet, Amanda appeared at Aberystwyth MusicFest, Sounds New Festival and the Harmos Festival, Portugal. In 2009, the quartet performed at the Purcell Room as part of the Park Lane Group’s Peter Maxwell Davies quartet cycle. She performed at the 2011 Aldeburgh Festival as part of the Lake/Maryon Davies Duo.
She was invited to lead the RCM Chamber Orchestra under Sir Roger Norrington at “The Power of Mozart” festival, and has guest led the Dmitri Ensemble and the Berkeley Ensemble. She has undertaken freelance work with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, BBC Concert Orchestra and the Gulbenkian Orchestra, Lisbon. At the end of October 2013 Amanda joined the 1
st violin section of the CBSO and moved location to Birmingham. In her spare time, Amanda enjoys sailing and swimming in the North Sea.

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David Wallace : October 2013 – July 2018

David studies violin with Suzanne Stanzeliet. Previous teachers include Maeve Broderick at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and during his undergraduate years at the Cork School of Music he studied violin with Cornelia Zanidache. He was one of the youngest members of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland (over 18's) at 16, where he had the pleasure of working with some of the greatest conductors in the world in some of the greatest venues in Europe.
Following classes with Natalia Tchitch he started to play viola in 2004 and since his move to London in 2005 he has played viola with many orchestras in many venues throughout the capital. He has attended masterclasses and coachings with Hugh Maguire, Suzanne Stanzeleit, Pal Banda, Constantin Zanidache, Robin Ireland and Andrew Fuller.
Ensembles he has played with include GSMD Symphony Orchestra, YMSO, LGSO, Pelly Concert Orchestra, Sinfonia Tamesa, London Charity Orchestra, National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, RIAMSO, CSMSO, Lambeth Orchestra, Wexford Sinfonia, Kilkenny Youth Orchestra, Bloomsbury Symphony and British Police Orchestra. He also leads a busy chamber music career on both violin and viola.
He teaches violin at James Allen Girls and is Head of Music at Reedham Park School in South London. He is a music scholar (violin) at Roehampton University in London.

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Vanessa Russell : July 2018 - present

Vanessa Russell studied violin and viola at the Royal College of Music with Maureen Smith and Ivo van der Werff and prior to that studied in Sussex with Andrew Sherwood.

Vanessa has worked with orchestras including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Brandenburg Sinfonia, Guildford and Brighton Philharmonic Orchestras, and the London Concert Orchestra, performing at venues including the Royal Albert Hall at the Proms, Symphony Hall Birmingham, the Barbican, NEC Birmingham, Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Opera House among others. 

She has performed with such artists as Hayley Westenra, John Tomlinson and Alfie Boe and has also played for the launch of the cruise ship MS Queen Elizabeth

Vanessa is a regular violin and violist with the Akina String Quartet with whom she has performed for the Royal family, at the Henley Regatta and even for A list celebrities. She also performs regularly with the Barber String Quartet who is a recommended supplier at Wotton House Hotel in Surrey but performs throughout Surrey, Kent, London and occasionally Sussex. Previously she was violist for the Rabinof Quartet and played at venues including the House of Lords, City Hall, the Royal Opera House and Kensington Palace and the RAC Club London for Princess Michael of Kent

Vanessa also works as a peripatetic violin and viola teacher in Hampshire and Berkshire and her pupils range from complete beginners to Diploma standard