Dr Margaret Staniforth initiated what is now the Endcliffe Orchestra. In 1977 she assembled a group of local musicians to form what was then called ‘Sheffield Amateur Orchestra’. For the first few years, with a series of different conductors and a somewhat fluid membership, they met at Brantwood School in Nether Edge, then Langsett Music Centre, and later at the church hall of St Augustine’s, Endcliffe. There, under the leadership of Tony Ward, one of the staff of the Langsett Centre, the orchestra settled down to become an established part of the Sheffield music-making scene.
Not long after Tony Ward took over as conductor, the Polytechnic Orchestra, which met at the Collegiate Campus of what is now Hallam University and was conducted by Roger Hoyle, was discontinued. As well as students of Sheffield City Polytechnic, this orchestra included a number of local amateur players (some of whom played together previously in Malcolm Hanna’s evening-class orchestra at Abbeydale Hall) and these players now joined the Sheffield Amateur Orchestra at St Augustine’s Endcliffe under Tony Ward. His priority was to cater for players of quite modest ability, including some ‘late starters’, and to help them develop musically by playing enjoyably together.
Tony Ward was the orchestra’s conductor for ten years. A pattern of informal concerts was established with audiences mostly consisted of friends and family. In 1992 the orchestra was re-named The Endcliffe Orchestra. In 1994 the orchestra moved again to Holy Trinity Church Hall in Millhouses.
When Tony Ward retired, in the summer of 1997, we were fortunate to secure the services of Alan Eost, who continued as our conductor until 2004. Under his baton we performed regularly in Holy Trinity Church, and occasionally elsewhere, often sharing the concert with a group of singers or young instrumental soloists. In the summer of 1998 we put on a joint concert with Hallam Choral Society in Hallam Community Hall; and in 1999 we shared a concert with Escafeld Chorale at Banner Cross Methodist Church.
Our current conductor, Martin Lightowler, took up the baton in January 2005. By this time the orchestra was putting on regular concerts with a paying audience, and a big effort on ticket sales resulted in frequent full houses. The main venue became St Lukes Church, Lodge Moor.
Higher ticket sales and growing membership resulted in a financial surplus and it was decided to employ a professional Leader to complement the strings (Martin Lightowler being a wind specialist), and local violinist Ralph Dawson joined in 2009. The growing membership necessitated a move to a larger rehearsal space, Millhouses Methodist Church, where the orchestra meets today.
In 2012 the orchestra playing twice at the City Hall; for a children’s concert (in aid of the Children’s Hospital) and for the “Alight” festival, a variety concert showcasing many local amateur groups. The summer concert featured Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with soloist Robin Ireland, plus we did a play-through for fun of the Saint-Saens Organ symphony at St Mark’s church, Broomhill.
In 2015 the orchestra organised and performed the winning entries to the Janet Altman Composing Competition, an event founded by former-member Janet Altman. In addition to this the orchestra has, over the last few years, premiered a number of new compositions, including the works of orchestra viola player Matthew Leese; his Happy Melancholy in 2016 and Easy Piano Concerto in 2018 with the composer at the piano. Other special events include performing with an amateur rock group and our participation in an event to celebrate the refurbishment of the Crucible Theatre.
Other events include performing with the Vivacity choir, a concert in 2013 as part of the A Boy Was Born festival led by Sheffield University celebrating Benjamin Britten, a number of playdays and weekends performing works including The Planets, Tchiakovsky’s Pathetique, a Chamber Music Day in 2014, and many concerto performances with local musicians. These include Ralph Dawson (Mendelssohn Concerto), Yuki Kittaka and Kath Hathaway (Mozart Flute & Harp Concerto), Lindsay Aitkenhead (Berlioz Harold in Italy), Liz Hanks (Bruch Kol Nidrei) and Frank Edenborough (Strauss Horn Concerto). In 2017 the orchestra played at the Abbeydale Picture House to a live film for the Somme 100 project.
The orchestra has continued over the years through the efforts of many people, including our conductors. These include: Penny Kay, who was Honorary Treasurer prior to 1992; to Bernard Jones, Treasurer (and much else besides!) from 1992 to 2001; to Julia Robinson, Leader of the orchestra for more than a decade; Eric Charlesworth, who for many years acted as librarian, putter-out of chairs, and coffee-maker; and Sara and Stuart Green who contributed heavily to the running of the orchestra for a decade up to 2012 and brought the orchestra to a new level with Sara’s strong push on ticket sales and Stuart’s web design skills; and Ann and Andy Rangecroft who contributed heavily to fundraising and received an Honorary Lifetime Membership certificate prior to their move away from Sheffield in 2018. To these people and many more the orchestra is extremely grateful.
October 2018: Farewell to Ann Rangecroft who did a huge amount for the orchestra in fundraising and helping out at concerts. She was presented with a certificate granting Honorary Lifetime Membership. She is here with all the other members who have been with the orchestra since Martin’s Lightowler’s start in 2005 – some of them for considerably longer!
Below are scans of some fascinating photos, news articles and documents from the late 1970s about the new Sheffield Amateur Orchestra given to us by Margaret at the reunion event in July 2018.
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