Call for volunteers: Essex Ensembles Assembled

Do you have an ear for music? An investigative streak? An interest in audio archives? Or, even better, all three?

We are looking for volunteers to help catalogue recordings of the Essex Youth Orchestra (EYO) and Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra (CYCO) from the 1960s to the 2000s.

The recordings have recently been digitised as part of the ‘Essex Ensembles Assembled’ project, funded by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC).

The next step in the project is to make information about the recordings available on our catalogue, Essex Archives Online, and (rights-permitting) share some the recordings online.

Ideally, we’d like volunteers to listen to the recordings, identify the pieces performed, and write time-coded descriptions for our catalogue. For those less familiar – or a bit rusty! – with classical music, some of the concert programmes are available to help.

If you are interested, please get in touch with our Sound Archivist, Kate O’Neill.
We would especially love to hear from you if you were involved with the EYO or CYCO yourself. You can volunteer remotely or here in the Searchroom at the Essex Record Office, so you’ll be able to get involved whether you’re based in Essex or further afield.

About the Essex Youth Orchestra

The Essex Youth Orchestra (EYO) was founded in 1957 and continues to this day as Essex Music Services’ flagship ensemble. The EYO has consistently maintained an excellent reputation for the very high standard of its performances, in part down to its history of distinguished conductors, such as John Georgiadis. 

Essex Youth Orchestra perform Holst’s ‘Brook Green Suite’ in Thaxted Church on the 75th anniversary of the Thaxted Music Festival, 28 December 1989 [SA 1/927/1]. Recorded by BBC Essex.

There are over 50 recordings of EYO performances in the Essex Sound and Video Archive. They feature a range of composers, from Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach to those with a local connection such as Holst, Britten, and Gordon Jacob. The EYO regularly performed at local festivals and on tour, with concerts in the USA in 1972, Israel in 1976 and East Germany in 1982.

The first performance of Gordon Jacob’s ‘Sinfonia Brevis’, performed by Essex Youth Orchestra at Saffron Walden County High School, 5 April 1975 [SA881].

About Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra

Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra (CYCO) was founded in 1982 to provide talented local musicians an opportunity to play in an ambitious chamber orchestra. It also featured notable musicians, with trumpeter George Reynolds conducting from 1984. It closed in 2007.

Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra performing at the Colchester Rose Show in July 1984 [SA645]. Do you recognise the piece being performed?

The CYCO archive was deposited at the Essex Record Office in 2012. Alongside programmes, posters, and press clippings, the archive includes twenty recordings of CYCO performances, from concerts at the annual Colchester Rose Show to the first performance of Alan Bullard’s ‘Colchester Suite’.

Presenter Liz Mullen explains the inspiration behind Alan Bullard’s ‘Colchester Suite’, commissioned for Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra in 1983 [SA645]. From ‘Folio’, Anglia Television’s arts programme.

The aim of the Essex Ensembles Assembled project

The project aims to preserve recordings of the Essex Youth Orchestra and Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra and make them available for future generations to enjoy. It is funded by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation and study of sound recordings.

As an aural record, the recordings provide a unique insight into the changing nature and repertoire of youth orchestras in Essex over the past fifty years, and give a platform to local musicians, conductors and composers.

They also capture music-making that is often lost to posterity, with performances by the Second Essex Youth Orchestra as well as the First, and the occasional wrong notes and coughs from the audience.

Nevertheless, as a whole the recordings reveal a high standard of performance, and demonstrate what young people can contribute to music in Essex and beyond.

Conductor John Georgiadis and four Essex Youth Orchestra members talk about their involvement with the orchestra on the EYO’s 30th anniversary in 1987. Recorded by BBC Essex [SA 1/1291/1].
Collage of black and white photographs of the Essex Youth Orchestra in concert and on outings.
A collage of photographs from an Essex Youth Orchestra concert programme.

A day in the life of an Essex Sound and Video Archive volunteer

Andy Popperwell shares his experiences volunteering for the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Photograph of volunteer smiling at camera

Nineteen (boxes) times fifty-six (tapes) is a thousand and sixty four.  That’s an awful lot of open reel tapes, even if they’re five-inch ones.  This is the estimated number of remaining tapes to be processed from a collection of 79 boxes, formerly the property of the late Chris Bard, who presented Sunday morning programmes on BBC Essex for many years (Accession Number SA459).

My name is Andy Popperwell and I’ve just become a volunteer in the Sound Archive at the Essex Record Office.  My task is to review these tapes and help to decide which ones should enter the Archive and which ones shouldn’t.  The key criterion is whether they have relevance to Essex.  Some do; some don’t. 

I’ve made a start, and the range of material is fascinating.  Everything from Polish Christian radio stations after the fall of communism to ecumenism in Essex villages.

Photograph of an open reel tape on player

Learning the archive protocols was the first step. I spent many years as a Studio Manager (Sound Engineer) in the BBC World Service, working on high-speed current affairs in 40 languages, where the pressure was to get the interviews edited as quickly as possible and into the live programmes, 24 hours a day.  Here, in the calm atmosphere of the Archive, it’s a question of treating each tape reverently, making sure that temperature and humidity are appropriate and learning how to do a ‘library wind’. This means that, after listening carefully and making notes about the content, each tape is wound back at slow speed so that it’s neatly positioned on the spool and there’s no chance of physical damage.  

Photograph of volunteer working at tape player

It’s great to be learning new skills while at the same time using my previous experience to help with the work of the Archive.  I’m also a volunteer at Copped Hall, on the edge of Epping Forest.  It’s a 1750s mansion which was destroyed in a huge fire in 1917, and we’re restoring it.  Apart from general labouring, I’m setting up Copped Hall’s own sound archive, trying to record the lives and stories of those who have worked over the last 25 years to rebuild the old place.  Do come and visit us on one of our regular Tour Days – third Sunday in the month.

Both these volunteering opportunities are feeding into my other big interest: I’ve returned to being a student, doing a Masters by Research at London South Bank University.  I’m interested in what Essex in general and Copped Hall in particular sounded like in past times.  I hope that, as well as expanding my brain, it will be possible to use my research to recreate the soundscapes of the past, and specifically the 1750s, when the Hall was built.  The Essex Record Office has a huge quantity of fascinating material to help with my research, including, for example, little pieces of paper with rhymes and poems which the Conyers family, owners of Copped Hall, wrote for each other in the middle of the eighteenth century (Catalogue Reference D/DW Z3).  Handling these documents is a real privilege, and a unique connection with the past.

Finding our way through the National Grid

 Lawrence Barker, Archivist

The ERO has a fine collection of late 19th and early 20th century large scale OS maps (1:2500 County Series) available for public consultation in the Searchroom.  However, we wanted to extend the collection to include later 20th century National Grid maps of the same scale. Some mid-Essex maps are available to view but many, among various collections which have been donated to the ERO over the years, remain to be made so.

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Just a few of the maps awaiting sorting and cataloguing

A Map Project involving volunteers has been underway for three years to achieve this and has reached the stage where, having identified and listed our remaining maps and their locations, assessing duplication and condition, we are now ready to select those which will be added to the Searchroom collection.  The task is complex though, and involves the volunteers spreading out maps around the Searchroom whilst we are closed on Mondays so they can be sorted.

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Spreading out maps in the Searchroom ready for sorting

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Our team of volunteers comprises Michael and Jane Thomas, who are NADFAS members, John Longhurst, and Andrew Morton who acts as leader bringing his expert knowledge of maps as a former land surveyor usefully to the task.

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The sorting and listing of the 20th century National Grid maps is a long term project that will take a few years, but we are looking forward to the end result of making our map collection ever more accessible.