Musical no-hopers strike chord

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There is something seductive about a musical instrument. Even the player with no talent will persevere, happy to be lost in the world it opens up and occasionally surprised when the note rings true.

The trouble is finding people to play with, which is why author Alexander McCall Smith founded the Really Terrible Orchestra as a "refuge for the musically challenged".

Last night the Edinburgh-based orchestra performed before a sell-out crowd at the Cadogan Hall in London, even though those paying punters would have done better to go to see their children's school bands.

But Mr McCall Smith's idea has struck a nerve. The Really Terrible Orchestra has become really successful. "We both play, me bassoon and my wife Elizabeth flute – she hesitantly, me extremely incompetently – but we soon found other equally weak players who wanted to join," he said.

These players may be weak, but many have found success in other fields, which is perhaps why they are willing to display their musical incompetence with such pride. They are Edinburgh's politicians, bankers, judges, surgeons and academics.

The inherent danger of performing regularly is that the orchestra might actually become good.

Mr McCall Smith is dubious. "We do have some truly dire players," he said. "One of our cellists has to have the names of the strings written in pencil on his bridge in order to remember them.

"Another clarinettist can't go above middle B flat and I can't manage a C sharp at all, it must be design fault in the bassoon."

He went on to explain that if by chance any player did improve too much the orchestra compensated by admitting someone of considerably less talent.

By listening carefully, I was able to recognise last night's first piece, "The Dambusters March".

The atmosphere in the hall rose to a pitch of excitement seldom experienced at an orchestral concert as we all sang along to The Sound of Music.

The orchestra concluded with the final 60 bars of Beethoven's 8th Symphony. It was a magnificent finale – received, as is usual for the Really Terrible Orchestra, with a standing ovation.

It really was a terribly good evening.

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