The Helix Ensemble

Anice Paterson and Susan Lansdalewere the co-founders of the Helix Ensemble who put the initial plans together over a long lunch at Ashby Road, Loughborough in 1991, and drew a group of like-minded musicians together as the first ‘committee’ which then laid plans leading up to the inaugural concert in June 1992.  The aims and objectives for the Ensemble were:

  • To create a region-wide group of experienced players (and friends from further afield in sympathy with the ethos of Helix) who wanted to work intensively to the highest possible standards, using professional musicians to coach and direct;
  • Programming chamber works not often heard live, alongside more popular works form the chamber music/chamber orchestra repertoire;
  • Programmes that embrace wide period of music – generally Baroque to contemporary – in each concert;
  • Include first performances of new music;
  • Have a cooperative approach in
    1. Playing (players move around and share leadership, chamber solos etc)
    2. Organisation – a co-operative committee of any player who wanted to get involved, and with annual feedback sought from all players;
  • Involve young people (i.e. university students, players in the local youth orchestras) who were in sympathy with the aims of Helix, could demonstrate commitment and met the standards to be involved as a way of offering them wider experience;
  • Involve opportunities to socialise alongside good quality music-making;
  • Perform in Loughborough as a base, but also in other venues around the East Midlands- often new or unusual ones;

It was decided that there would be no fees or travel expenses paid to anyone but the professional coaches, conductors or soloists, but also that players would not be expected to pay a subscription.  It was also agreed that, since the rehearsal period was tight, all players should practise their music in advance of the first rehearsal, and that they would not be allowed to play unless they were willing to attend all rehearsals (we ended up taking a pragmatic approach, but aiming for this!).

Finding an Identity

The new committee (Anice & Bruce Paterson, Rosemary Duxbury, Liz Bell, Mike Mansfield, David Thomson (& later Alison his wife), Mark &Susan Lansdale) met several times in late 1991 to early 1992 to agree the ethos, aims and objectives for the Ensemble.  They obtained a start-up grant from East Midlands Arts for initial design and marketing and used a professional designer, who came to a couple of meetings to talk about the image the Ensemble wanted to create, for the logo and initial design of posters, and programme.  The hardest thing to decide was the name and after two meetings that went on very late – the final decision was made at1.00a.m.one morning, when they knew we had to come to a consensus!  The final selection was suggested by Liz Bell, who was a keen gardener – she suggested three names of indigenous Charnwood plants – Quercus (oak), Ilex (holly) and Helix (ivy).  They opted for Helix – and went with an ivy green for colour.  However, the Loughborough Echo critic suggested at the outset that Helix was a fitting name as we constantly changed places during our concerts!  A ‘wish list’ was drawn up of all the works we had always wanted to play, the first programme was chosen, and a couple of professional musicians to coach were engaged and the first concert was planned.

Innovative Concerts

The first concert by the Helix Ensemble was given in June 1992 in the Victoria Room at Loughborough Town Hall.  There was a decent audience between 70 to 80 people, and this event is well documented with posters, programme, and press cuttings.

After that, Helix settled into an annual programme of 3 concerts per year – partly because that was the minimum to lever an annual grant from East Midlands Arts (who later devolved the grant scheme to Making Music).  Helix also tried to have 2 concerts per year promoted by other people (e.g. the 2 local Universities) to ensure there would be a known income and to help with publicity for audience numbers (although the latter always didn’t work!).

During the first five years, Helix did several first performances of works by local composers & Helix players – Rosemary Duxbury and Alison Bean, and because of this and our general programming policy, Helix twice received Performing Right Society (PRS) Enterprise Awards.  Rosemary & Susan Lansdale went up to London to collect the first from Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies, and Mark Lansdale went up to collect the second from Lady Hilary Groves.

5th Anniversary

The fifth anniversary concert was a milestone, under the direction of David Drummond at Loughborough Parish Church.  The composer’s widow came to hear us play a little known work by Reizenstein.

In autumn 1998, Helix went on tour to Northumberland – really, a week’s stay at Chillingham Castlewith intensive rehearsal (on a demanding programme) and socialising, culminating in a concert in the church at Berwick on Tweed.  This event was directed by David Drummond again.  This was a great experience, and possibly more than anything, it took the playing standard forward another level, which has been maintained ever since.  The whole concert was not repeated back in the East Midlands, but Helix did play the works on several occasions in other concerts over the next two years.

Millennium Project

Helix hosted a Millenium event, with an “Awards for All and the Composers of the 21st Century” project.  It was not without its problems, but well worth doing – it established partnerships working with several schools, and led to a concert that included first performances of works by 5 young composers alongside established works written around 1700, 1800, and 1900.

10th Anniversary

The Ensemble’s 10th anniversary concert was again directed by David Drummond at Emmanuel Church Loughborough.  There was a nice display about Helix in the foyer (the first time we did this) and we invited back the Patersons and Thomsons from the originally committee (the others couldn’t make it). – There was a Picture in the paper with the Mayor of Charnwood.

Helix Today

The Helix Ensemble has been a great achievement and is a credit to everyone involved.  Over 15 years 200 players and 20 musical directors have given more than 50 concerts with the Helix Ensemble which have included 12 first performances.  Anice and Susan hoped it would be successful and fun, but didn’t expect it to last beyond 5 or 6 years when they started out.  It has not only survived the original committee members moving on, many away from the region, but has gone from strength to strength in terms of overall playing standards, finding interesting repertoire to play, extending the range of venues , involving good musical directors whilst remaining pretty true to the initial ethos and objectives. This has only been possible because the committee has been able to re-generate and maintain enthusiasm and energy.   Many people involved over the years have appreciated and enjoyed the unique musical opportunities Helix has given them, and the camaraderie!

Susan Lansdale– April 2006

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