London Promenade Orchestra

The orchestra in 1947


Founded in 1946...    London during the 1920"s and '30"s was the home of many orchestras. Almost every church, school and community had one.  Prominent amongst these were the Sunday School Orchestras of Wellington Street United Church, the Community of Christ Church, St. David's Anglican Church, Dundas Centre United Church and Hyatt Avenue United Church, with many of these musicians also playing in the various theatre orchestras of the time.   Most of these were disbanded during the Second World War but it was from this earlier group of musicians that the present London Promenade Orchestra was formed in 1946 with Raymond Neal as conductor.  The name was chosen from the "promenade" type concerts popular in England during the War years.The extensive music library now owned by the Orchestra includes music from these church and theatre orchestras along with more recent additions. Programs of "popular classical" and "light concert" music are presented at the orchestra concerts.

The Wilfred Ferris Brochure...   This page has a photo gallery of pages of an actual brochure made by Wilfred Ferris, one of the original violinists and secretary of the orchestra. This was written just after the first season's completion in late 1947. The gallery also includes programs from the first season, and one from 1948. Following this gallery is a history of the orchestra written in September 1967 by Mary Alice Neal, spouse of conductor Raymond Neal. Raymond Neal was conductor until 1980, when he died, and the current conductor William N. Clarke took over. 


Early programs

A history by Mary Alice Neal, September 1967
About 30 years ago, there was a Golden Age of instrument playing. Orchestras were everywhere.  Every school, every church, every community had one.  Those were the days when musical instruments were not relegated to the attic, or handed out by the schools.  They actually belonged to and were used by the players.  Nor were they self-taught geniuses. Lessons and practicing were a part of the daily routine.The London Promenade Orchestra had its early beginnings at this time, Five members who belonged to the Latter Day Saints Church on Maitland Street, Arlo Hodgson, Jim Bolton and three Neal brothers, Raymond, Ronald and Harold, with the later addition of Roy Bicknell, expanded into a 25 piece church orchestra with Raymond Neal as its conductor. This orchestra was disbanded because of the Second World War.  After his discharge, Raymond reorganized 15 members of this group to form the London Promenade Orchestra.  This name was chosen from the "promenade" type of concerts which the various symphonies put on in the summer time.  It suited the type of popular classical music which the orchestra intended to play.
Most orchestras were casualties of the War.  But Ray had dreamed for many years of forming a new, city-wide orchestra.  This dream now became a lively, down-to-earth reality.  The orchestra "family" which he founded has worked and played together for nearly a quarter of a century.  They have not been rewarded by much fame or money, but mainly by their own enjoyment of good music.  Their enthusiasm is so obvious and so genuine that it has been praised and envied by critics and listeners alike.  What they lack in technique, they make up in energy.

This energy often overflows into various fringe activities.  Teams for baseball, football and hockey have been formed and unformed; poems and articles have been written, movies taken, and unrehearsed fights and scenes have taken place.  And the favourite occupation of all - eating - has gone on steadily throughout.  Our esprit de corps has always been as strong, if not stronger, than our talents.

Over the years, the orchestra has gone through four historical periods, Like the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, we have had our ups and downs. Our four main eras are as follows:  "The Rapid Rise", The First Fall", "On Tour", and "Survival in the Post TV Era".  Our flights and falls are equally spectacular.  After all, we have survived into the space age, and must get used to going in and out of orbit. 

THE RAPID RISE 1946-49--For several years after Ray's return, the Promenade tasted the heady wine of success.  Four concerts a year were given, complete with guest artists and packed houses.  Write-ups appeared regularly in the local paper, and an article was published in the Toronto Star.  There were five concerts in the summer, in the Library Gardens, also very popular.  Even Central Collegiate became too small, and concerts were held at Beal Tech.  But this first fine careless rapture was soon to end.  A London Symphony Orchestra was formed in l950 under the direction of Martin Boundy, a band leader in the RCAF, This drew from us both audience and players, and a new start had to be made.

AFTER THE FALL 1950-53--Unfortunately, we did not know the right people in the right places.  Our fate was predetermined by our simple, honest character.  We were helpless against overwhelming odds.  From the survivors of this encounter Ray organized a smaller, livelier and less ambitious group.  With the help of Ron Trachy, the concert master at that time, a subtle strategy was worked out.  We embarked on a series of out-of-town engagements which attained a measure of success. This was our answer to the treatment we had received in the city of our birth. But we did not shake the dust off our feet completely.  We still held concerts at the Library and various churches. 

ON TOUR 1953-61 Take a map of Western Ontario.  Look up the small places around I/mdon such as Southwold, Shedden, Fromm, Mount Brydges, Strathroy, Glencoe and Aylmer. This was the itinerary of our tours.  Many amusing and distressing anecdotes can be told of these years.  Some are better left untold.  But the violin duet in a church with a tin roof during a hail storm deserves mention.  Our musicians carried on nobly until the lights went out. Then the duet became a solo; only one of them had memorized the piece. 

SURVIVAL IN THE POST TV ERA 1961++ The upward curve of our success graph was abruptly halted by the worst disaster we had yet faced-- the advent of TV.  Like Don Quixote, we attacked this wind-mill head on.  But TV, like sex, was bigger than we were, and was here to stay. Audiences dwindled, especially rural audiences.  After a hard day's work, they preferred to watch TV at home rather than struggle out to a live concert.  Our tour engagements were not renewed, and we were forced to resume our fight for existence in the city.  It was now a city so saturated with imported and local, paid groups that there was no room for a native, do-it-yourself orchestra.  No room in the literal sense, for we could not even find a small place to hold our concerts.  A change of policy prevented us from returning to the Library. For practices, Wellington Street United Church opened its doors. For concerts, we were always welcome at the IDS Church, our place of origin.
Such experiences have not quenched our spirit. Though we have often out-numbered our audiences, we appreciated their presence.  Though we are again on an upward curve, we do not depend on outward success for our enjoyment*  Ray has tailored our concert plans to fit the situation.  We now give two "orchestra recitals" each Spring.  Musicians of the orchestra play solos and chamber works together with orchestra numbers.  Even our tours have recently revived.  We have taken our recitals to Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan.  Our next trip will be to Owen Sound.  But whether we succeed or fail, the art of music is always its own reward..  If musicians of any period had worked only for fame and fortune, there would be no enduring masterpieces for us to play.

  Out of me unworthy and unknown
  The vibrations of deathless music.
                              Edgar Lee Masters