Chichester orchestra records its own lockdown song

Encore Chichester Community Orchestra has managed to come together musically – while keeping its distance – to produce its very own lockdown song: Ku’u Pua I Paokalani.

Professor Laura Ritchie
Professor Laura Ritchie

Appropriately, the piece was written by the Queen of Hawaii from a time of her own isolation – an echo of the isolation we are all enduring right now.

Members of the orchestra recorded their own parts and submitted them to orchestra director Professor Laura Ritchie.

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Laura, who teaches at the University of Chichester, then spent a day of “jiggery pokery” balancing it all out to produce the finished version which can now be enjoyed on YouTube.

Laura is now aiming to work on some Simon & Garfunkel with the orchestra for their next release.

“The whole idea with the orchestra initially was for a group of adults to come together that simply wanted to play music. They maybe learnt as a child or had a few lessons but had just never really had the opportunity to come together as an orchestra. There are orchestras around, but they tend to be very competitive. These are people who just wanted to enjoy playing together.

“A couple of my adult students that I teach had been saying they really wanted to play in an orchestra, so we decided to see what we could do, and it has been going now for a couple of years.

“We started out meeting once a fortnight, but people said they wanted to do more, and we now meet every week. The university has given us space and when we meet each person gives £5 as a donation – they don’t have to - which goes into a ring-fenced account for my research and student projects. The university gives the space and gets something back.

“We are around 40 people now that meet on a weekly basis. They range from people who are quite at the beginning of their playing of their instrument to people who perhaps were in the county youth orchestra when they were younger. It doesn’t matter what your level is. I can make it easier for you if you need it, and there is no commitment to come every week. It is more about the sharing.”

When coronavirus started to threaten, people started to say they wished there was a way they could continue: “But this was one of the first things that got cancelled at the university because when you are playing you are all quite close to each other and you are breathing down your instrument. You just can’t avoid contact, and it was a duty of care to stop.”

But the perfect piece of music came along – and the orchestra members recorded their contributions individually for Laura to combine. A flute recording was made to give everyone a “click track” which they could use to keep time to.

“I then compiled them all together and balanced them out because everybody had different recording equipment whether it was a phone or a computer or a microphone and some people were standing closer and some people further back. There was a lot of jiggery pokery to do on the balance and everything. It took about a day to put it all together.”

And Laura is delighted with the results: “It is something you need to practise, to be able to play on something like this, but these people were doing it in isolation with no guidance and for the first time as amateur musicians. They have done incredibly well. And when they heard it with everybody together, it was very moving. People from all walks of life have come together at this time of distancing, and it really is quite a feat.”

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