Heading for New York, McCall Smith's 'Terrible Orchestra'

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The Independent Culture

When the acclaimed novelist Alexander McCall Smith enlisted a group of "really terrible" musicians in Edinburgh to form an amateur orchestra which proclaimed to be unapologetic in its "commitment to lower standards", he never imagined they would perform in international music venues.

Spurred on by his two teenage daughters' joy at learning music while they were at school 10 years ago, McCall Smith, the creator of the best-selling book series, The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency, dusted down his bassoon and began rehearsals with a motley crew of 12 others at a girls' school in Edinburgh.

Yet The Really Terrible Orchestra (RTO) has become an unlikely success which has developed a cult following and recognition around the world.

Success at Cadogan Hall in London has given the orchestra the confidence to take on America. The group will play at New York's City Hall next April.

Yesterday, McCall Smith said that after an original tour around Fife the group was invited to play in London.

"That concert was a complete sell-out and we received a standing ovation. Emboldened, we decided to go to New York. The response, even at this stage, is amazing. Who would believe that a group of extremely untalented musicians would get such wonderful support in a country like the United States, which rates success so highly?"

He said membership was, from the start, based on enjoyment over ability. What charmed audiences, he said, was the fallibility of the players. The orchestra will also play at the Edinburgh launch of McCall Smith's latest novel, La's Orchestra Saves the World, on 4 November.

The RTO's first concert was in June 1995, at the St George's School for Girls, where members rehearse.

Peter Stevenson, clarinettist and chair of the orchestra, said: "There were 13 of us sitting in a semi-circle around the conductor and we played six pieces including the National Anthem ... Even though we performed mostly for friends and family, the concert had a huge impact on us as we realised there were notes we could play and that the sound was not too bad."