Phil has been a member since 1998. He started learning the violin in Australia when he was 8 and still has lessons occasionally. He was leader of various junior orchestras and played in amateur chamber groups, pit orchestras and theatrical productions before moving to the UK in 1985. Here he has been a regular member of orchestras in Huntingdon, Basingstoke, Kingsclere, Reading, Guildford, London, Leatherhead, Hayes and Bromley, but also often plays in smaller ad-hoc groups accompanying choirs or musicals, or at weddings. Rehearsals for these one-off events are often limited and require sight-reading skill. They sometimes pay a modest (amateur) fee but Phil earns a living as a professional electrical engineer and software developer and music is just a hobby. Bromley Symphony concerts require more practice – 7 or 8 group rehearsals plus at least a couple of evenings of individual practice before each concert.
He also plays piano (not in public) but finds the violin particularly rewarding because there is more control over sound character, and because of the social aspect of orchestral playing. Violins often get the main melody and rarely sit silent, counting bars. Most orchestras have vacancies for string players because so many are required. There are many amateur orchestras around here – nearly 200 in Greater London alone – and it would be possible to play in concerts almost every weekend.
Phil’s violin is probably 19th century German (with a fake label inside) and previously belonged to his father. The bow is much more modern and was made recently by a local craftsman. It needs to be rehaired every couple of years and the violin occasionally needs polishing and a change of strings but otherwise doesn’t need much maintenance.
Some memorable events over the years have included seeing a conductor step backwards off the stage and a cellist falling off the stage onto his cello, being hit by flying conductor’s batons, struggling to play in cold and windy conditions and in tiny orchestra pits and by candlelight, playing in costume and makeup on stage and on TV and of course lots of embarrassing mistakes. His other hobbies include maintaining the orchestra’s website and designing and operating lighting and sound for theatrical productions, most recently at the Barn Theatre in Oxted. There are more details and pictures on his website at www.mckerracher.net.