How did The Cobweb Orchestra start?

In October 1995, there was a ten-week course at Annfield Plain Library with an invitation to ‘Blow the Cobwebs off your music stand’ with the help of horn player Chris Griffiths.

When the course finished, the players wanted it to continue, and the orchestra continued to grow and develop under the direction of our inspirational Creative Director, Andy Jackson. Some of the founder members are also still with us.

We were supported in the early days with funding from Derwentside District Council and Durham County Council. The orchestra became independent on 6th April 2007.

We celebrated our Silver Anniversary in 2020.

What is The Cobweb Orchestra now?

The multi-award winning Cobweb Orchestra is now a regional network of local community groups with an extensive programme of events.

A book was published in 2013 with 150 glossy pages of reminiscences and photographs charting our first 18 years, beautifully compiled and presented by Ruth Tanner.

If you’d like to find out more about the history of Cobwebs, you can purchase a copy for £5, plus postage. Please contact David Wood: woosmull@gmail.com

We also have an archive of newsletters.

What makes The Cobweb Orchestra itself?

The Cobweb Orchestra has quite a distinctive character. As one guest conductor commented, “I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.”

Some players are complete beginners who may have never been part of an orchestra before. Some have been too busy to play and want to start again. Some are experienced players who want to enjoy music in new company. Some are experienced musicians who are learning another instrument.

We are:

  1. Open Access: Players can join in with any instrument and with any level of experience. We try to make a special effort, by creating large print parts for those with a visual impairment, making arrangements with easy parts for players still getting to grips with their instruments, providing loan instruments for players who do not have them, and producing adapted parts where needed so players don’t need to transpose or buy an extra clarinet. Bursaries are available to support those who have may find it difficult to finance their playing. Players of all ages are welcome. (Anyone under 18 should be accompanied by an adult). 
  2. Non-competitive: There are no entry requirements. We do not hold auditions and players are not excluded on the basis of ability. Players are encouraged to rotate through ‘desks’ so everyone gets a chance at a first or second part and even a solo if they wish. We do not take part in music competitions.
  3. Flexible: There are no commitments. We do not expect everyone to come each week, but it is always nice to see you when you can make it. There are no limits to the numbers of players, except on the rare occasion that the size of a venue dictates the number or range of instruments, and then initial recruitment is on a “first-come” basis. We respond positively to requests from participants or third parties, sometimes at very short notice, such as bringing players together for funerals, weddings, birthday celebrations, and retirement parties.
  4. Supportive and tolerant: We embrace players of all standards. A ‘wrong note’ is fine among friends! There is more to being part of an orchestra than just playing an instrument: knowledge of repertoire or style, technical skills such as instrument repairing, empathy, generosity, to name but a few. Other interests aside from music enhance our orchestra. There is also a great deal of informal socialising as well music making through shared meals and travel.
  5. Nurturing: We aim to help players make progress and hopefully achieve their personal goals. This might be playing a favourite piece of music, becoming a soloist, conducting, composing and arranging music, making a recording for a CD or film, or trying out a new instrument. Some players go on to develop their musicianship in the many offshoots from the main orchestra such as The Cobweb Cabaret and Cobweb Chamber Orchestra. Various smaller wind or string ensembles have been formed by players themselves; playing chamber music equips them with skills to develop their orchestral playing and enables them to support and encourage those who are less experienced. Most Cobwebbers aspire to become better players and are given the chance to engage with highly complex music, which might at first seem beyond them. We also hope that players and listeners will learn something that enhances their appreciation of music.
  6. Open-minded: We respond in imaginative ways to the challenges of creating opportunities for our players. We make the most of professional players and conductors who just happen to be visiting the region. A memorable event was a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Durham cathedral with a German choir. If a good proposal comes our way that  fits in with our overall ethos, then we will explore and often take up the opportunity. Other examples include performing for the Queen, celebrating the arrival of the Paralympic Flame at Beamish Museum, and taking part in the ‘Battle of the Somme’ centenary tour. We’ve even played underground and undercover!

The emphasis of The Cobweb Orchestra is on sharing a love of music.

Each event and group rehearsal aims to be a success in its own terms by making progress with whoever is there to achieve a pleasurable experience for all involved. We try to keep all players involved as much of the time as possible; for example, trombonists who are not required to play for certain movements of a symphony may play a bassoon part instead. We play an enormous quantity and variety of music rather than focusing on a few pieces solely for performance. One of the byproducts of this approach is that Cobweb players quickly become very good sight readers.

Playing in our orchestra is life enhancing. A combination of a strong sense of community and highly structured activity which requires enormous concentration seems to allow people to escape even some of the troubles of life in a safe environment. Cobfriends send cards and gifts to people who are ill or distressed. Every week, there are stories of players who thank the orchestra for being there to help them through difficult times.


Click here to download the document ‘What makes The Cobweb Orchestra itself?’

Instrument Bank

Cobwebs boasts a bank of nearly 50 musical instruments that can be used by its members and others associated with the orchestra.

The bank may be used to explore instruments that you have never tried before or to rediscover an instrument that you had acquired years ago but then let go. It enables you to join in without the expense of investing in an instrument first; if it doesn’t work out, you can simply hand it back with nothing lost. On the other hand, we do hope that it will help you to become a regular player.

Sometimes we have an ‘instrument swap’ which sees everyone attempt to play something different to their usual instrument. Even a competent musician becomes a beginner again, which can be fun but at the same time a useful activity to help us to understand and appreciate what other players have to do!

Please contact: cobwebinstruments@gmail.com

Cobweb Library

The Cobweb music library is a unique collection as it reflects our values, scope and ambition by incorporating standard orchestral sets that have been expanded to allow for other instruments that may not belong in a conventional orchestra, alongside specially arranged pieces. Some pieces have been written specifically for the orchestra, such as ‘La folia’ arranged by Stephanie Cant who has conducted and played cello with us, and ‘Concerto for oboe and strings’ by John Hawkes. In 2014 we adopted a composer.

If you’re wondering what might happen to our music when it is not being played…

The library now has its own room at Ushaw College near Durham.

Without our library and our dedicated librarians, it would be much more difficult to access the wide range of pieces that we play. The library never stops growing. Cobweb players even raised funds to purchase Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’.

For any enquiries about our music, please contact a librarian: cobweblibrary@gmail.com