Ear defenders needed for wind machine instrument

GALE Nik Knight with his unique wind instrument made at Portsmouth Grammar School
GALE Nik Knight with his unique wind instrument made at Portsmouth Grammar School
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STUART REED, earplugs removed, reports from a spectacular concert which featured a wind instrument concocted in the woodwork department at Portsmouth Grammar School

THE audience at a packed Romsey Abbey was literally blown away as the Charity Symphony Orchestra performed Strauss’s monumental Alpine Symphony.

This major work is about a mountain climb in Bavaria.

On the way up, tranquil passages depict flowering pastures, a glacier and the joy of reaching the top. Then the skies darken like a lull before the storm.

Wisely, the conductor and musical director, Craig Lawton had issued ear plugs to several musicians in preparation for the 125-strong orchestra to play at maximum volume. And what a storm it was.

Eight double basses growled at the bottom end of the scale. Wagnerian tubas and a contrabass trombone boomed out a deep, threatening resonance. A strange instrument like a giant oboe, called a heckelphone, produced a powerful, low wail.

The string section thrashed away. Fiddles, violas and cellos plucked fiercely, imitating falling raindrops.

Trumpets blared and off-stage extra horns blew with all their might. There were banks of clarinets, oboes and flutes. Kettle drums rattled. Gongs boomed and cymbals clashed as the storm raged.

As it reached its height, a pre-recorded thunderclap ripped through the air and a howling gale came from an amazing wind machine. The custodian of this gale force piece of kit is freelance percussionist Nik Knight from Havant, a retired science teacher from Portsmouth Grammar School.

Made by PGS’s woodwork class in 1968, this contraption has only been used for Noah’s Flood and the Alpine Symphony. However, as Nik was hammering on the timpani during the concert, it was Katie Budden who operated this mighty instrument.

When she cranked the handle the noise was awesome. Eat your heart out Motorhead.

The first half of the concert included Mendelssohn’s Hebridean Overture and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite.

I played among the second violins throughout the whole performance as the Charity Symphony Orchestra was raising money for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance.

Its professional and amateur musicians usually only come together on the day of the concert to rehearse. Some travel great distances in the UK and Europe at their own cost to take part.

The Charity Symphony Orchestra’s next concert is on Saturday, January 7. For details go to charityso.org.uk/concerts.