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Part 1, 2004 – 2010
by Dougie Strachan

The Skye & Lochalsh Orchestra started as a group of friends who wanted to make music together. No politics, no personal agendas allowed. At 2004's New Year Ceilidh, Douglas Strachan and Rebecca MacKinnon agreed it would be a good idea to set up an orchestra again in Skye and Lochalsh. Douglas phoned Rosemary Bungard and she instantly agreed, and that set the ball in motion. One of the best phone calls he ever made. The first rehearsal, attended by 36 players, was on 31st January and the first concert was held that May in Broadford. The shared dream had been realised.

Getting SLO started was easy. Rosemary attracted that nucleus of players who remembered her organisation, enthusiasm, humour, great efforts of time and energy, etc. They returned because of their past loyalty to Rosemary, so an orchestra was reconstituted rather than beginning from scratch. With firm benevolence, discipline, kindness and fun, Rosemary encouraged us to play music we never dreamt we'd attempt, stretching us to the limit (and a little further) and getting the best out of us. By the spring 2008 concert at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, our playing could be considered rather good, and under her direction we attempted – and conquered – Mars from Holst's The Planets. Then we were certain that those several years of SLO effort had borne fruit and were highly chuffed when we read the well-deserved glowing review that appeared the following week in the West Highland Free Press. SLO had arrived!

In spring 2008, Rosemary retired from conducting the SLO and Becky Smith (now Becky Milne) ably and kindly stepped into the shoes and seamlessly kept the orchestra going. Many had come through the ranks of previous local groups such as the orchestra set up for 'Sgathach', the Gaelic opera in 1997, many from the SLYMM (Skye and Lochalsh Young Music Makers) orchestra before that who had enjoyed success with Rosemary as the conductor for a part of its time. Other origins lay with Barry Milner, a peripatetic music teacher who used to organise a band in the 80's, to play at a 'Festival of Carols' in Duncraig Castle each Christmas, raising money for the 'Save the Children' fund. This tradition was continued in Kyleakin in the 1985-90's by Douglas and Mary Strachan ably supported by Laura Grisi, Chris and Maggie Manvell et al.

Becky continued Rosemary's good work and was a very popular successor. The orchestra brings a lot of joy to many people: players, supporters and not least the beneficiaries of the charities we have supported over the years. Grade 3 or above is recommended (but not compulsory – many of our best players have no grades at all) for the senior orchestra with a training orchestra (now the Schools' Orchestra) available for beginners. There is a wide range of ages – Denis ('cello) possibly holds the record for seniority (in terms of years only), whilst some of the minutest musicians in the region play in SLO. The emphasis is on fun, inclusion and trying our best to make music. We achieve all of these goals!

Life would not be as rich in Skye and Lochalsh without the orchestra attempting and conquering great works such as: The Hebrides Overture (Mendelssohn), 1812 Overture (Tchaikovsky), Night on a Bare Mountain (Mussorgsky) and even The Pink Panther.

We are currently looking forward to the annual Winter concert in Kyleakin with Strath Gaelic Choir. This has been a long running success story which captures the spirit of Christmas and, by way of a raffle, benefits many local and national chrities.

Credit must also go to all the teachers, amateur and professional, who are helping bring on young ones and some not so young. SLO could not run without them. It is hard when orchestra members move away to further education, etc. and they are lost, but the cycle begins again. All we ask is for past members to remember us fondly, give us a good word and feel free to come back and see us again.

If you have and play an instrument, bring it and join in!

Part 2, 2011 to present day.