One of musical director Terry Cole’s favourite things about the Footscray Gypsy Orchestra is that potential members do not need to have mastered their instrument to be able to join.
‘We have a whole lot of players who are very, very skilled on their instruments, quasi virtuosic, but we also have people who have virtually never played before and I make room for them in the orchestra and give them meaningful parts to add to the whole sound,’ Terry says.
‘What I love about that is that people who are amateur musicians wouldn't normally expect to play on the main stage at Fed Square (the orchestra has been the opening act for the Victorian Seniors Festival in previous years) or play at the Birrarung Marr to bring in the dawn at White Night, with their faces being projected on a screen on both sides, spotlights on them and 1,000 people in front of them.’
Terry has been with the orchestra from its beginnings, back in 2011, when he and musicians Jen Hawley (who started it with the aid of a $3,000 grant from Maribyrnong Council) and Sarah Busuttil-Palmer co-conducted the group. Whilst the orchestra now has 30-plus members, over the past 10 years more than 130 have taken part.
‘Everyone plays an instrument. We have guitarists, ukulele players, some saxophonists, clarinettists, five accordionists, a dozen violinists, some percussionists and a bass player. The other thing that we do now that most community orchestras just don't do is that we sing most of our songs, and we sing in about 10 or a dozen languages from the Balkans and Europe.’
Terry says the response from Melbourne’s multicultural audiences is extremely positive.
‘Our music really resonates with our audiences because one in four people in Australia was born overseas…so people will know the songs and the audience just goes berserk, or dances, or cries, or sings along, or all of the above.’
Watch Footscray Gypsy Orchestra 2020 Victorian Seniors Festival reimagined performance.