The Craven Accordion Orchestra was founded in 1995. It started out as a social gathering of twelve accordionists and two keyboard players and was very much in the beginning stages of orchestra development. At this early stage it consisted of children & adults which were mainly of UK citizenship. The group were keen to perform and so it was decided that we would take part in local music events, such as the Skipton Music Festival and the Robertshaw Festival. We then went on to competing at specialist accordion festivals based at Stockport, Duckenfield and Fleetwood representing the North Central Area. The orchestra was evolved from the original members of the social group after they had witnessed other accordion orchestras at events that they had attended. There was no financial support or backing from other sources and rehearsals for early performances at nursing/care homes were conducted at the local village hall.
After a couple of years some new members were introduced to expand the orchestra. The format remained the same but the rehearsals were changed to a different evening to accommodate the members. We were fortunate at this time to have the support of the accomplished accordionist Mr Raymond Jones, who was able to advise us and assist Harry Hinchcliffe with the long term role of Musical Director. We were now starting to perform more concerts within the surrounding local villages which in return were creating revenue for us to upgrade the amplification equipment which was necessary for performances. Musically the orchestra had also moved up in ability which resulted in us regularly competing in festivals across the north of England as well as the UK championships, which were being held in Scarborough. From within the main orchestra we then started to produce some splinter groups i.e.: Intermediate & Advanced who were runners up in the UK championships.
One of the key splinter groups to be formed from the main orchestra is our ‘Sing-a-long’ group. This group consists of volunteer members from the orchestra who are used on a rotational basis, to continue providing an entertainment service to the elderly members of the surrounding communities by attending their nursing/care homes as well as performing for the general public at various venues. A small fee is charged for this service which proves to be an essential part of funding towards the orchestra’s overall expenses. In 2009 the Sing-a-long group proved to be as popular as ever by accepting 52 bookings throughout the year.
Also on a positive note, one of the former members of the orchestra was asked to represent the UK at the Coupe Mondiale World Championships held in Portugal in 2005. He is now a professional accordionist with his own band ‘The Robert Thorn Ceilidh Band’, and is an accomplished and very popular entertainer. 2003 and 2004 saw an influx of younger players who were keen to join the main orchestra, which resulted in the start of a new era.
With the ability of the orchestra members progressing, we have been able to provide concerts more frequently at a higher level and also attend larger venues. Not only have we taken part in area & UK championships but we have also had the opportunity to attend the Irish championships on two occasions as well as the Scottish championships. The orchestra performs in the 'Intermediate Orchestra' and 'Mixed Ability Orchestra' sections at the competitions to comply with the festival rules & regulations i.e.: Mixed ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds from the surrounding regions within a 20 mile radius.
The last few years have been very productive for us and we now have a large number of supporters covering a vast number of miles. From this we now perform at an ever increasing number of different venues, such as Skipton Town Hall, Settle Parish Church, Castle Bolton and Hawkshead Parish Church in the beautiful Lake District. Due to public demand we have produced two CDs and are hoping to produce a third CD later this year. We have also appeared on our local radio stations BCB (Bradford Community Broadcasting) and Drystone Radio.
We have been fortunate enough to play in concert with some very well established guest artists. On one such occasion we were lucky to have the pleasure of being joined by Professor Oleg Sharov, who is Head of Accordions at the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatory in St Petersburg, Russia. One of our younger members of the orchestra who was 16yrs of age at the time, Thom Hardaker, was introduced to him and this resulted in Thom attending a 5yr study course in Russia under Prof Oleg Sharov. He is already achieving the high standards that have been set, by representing the UK at the Baltic Accordion Festival and winning the international section outright. We are extremely proud of Thom’s achievements so far and continue to wish him every success.
The orchestra continues to maintain its fundamental values, by enabling juniors to take part in a cultural art as a valued educational experience whilst providing a recreational pastime within the collegiality of adult orchestra members. The adult membership of the orchestra is maintained through sheer enjoyment of the musical aspect and the camaraderie between us all and each member is extremely important in their own right.
As the orchestra has progressed and grown in stature, so too has the expenditure, which has resulted in us having to put some financial roles in place where we have introduced subscriptions to all members, concert fees and more recently the ‘200 Club’ where friends and supporters of the orchestra can pay an annual fee of £12.00 to be entered into a monthly prize draw where you could win amounts of £10 or £25.
Here's to the next step....
"Our mission is to extend the appreciation of the instrument through performance of existing and new work, educating others, working individually and collectively with people of all ages."
Improve our networking links with other musical groups and stakeholders in our area
To participate in concerts, including new concert venues, stretching beyond current regions
Take part in new performance projects
Perform newly arranged material
Continuation of summer workshops, providing a group learning experience with practical instructions and musical rudiments