The Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester

“If you have an instrument and a pulse, you’re in” is the motto of the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester.

And if you’re free every other Tuesday at 7:30, you can join them at the White Plains YMCA for rehearsal. No auditions necessary.

In fact, they are America’s first no-audition orchestra. They are not, though, the world’s first no-audition orchestra. That honor, most likely, goes to the Really Terrible Orchestra of Scotland – which Barbara Rosenthal, an amateur violinist in Irvington, New York, got wind of one day in December 2008.

Ms. Rosenthal had been playing in community orchestras, but you had to audition, you had to take it seriously, and you didn’t have much fun. And Ms. Rosenthal knew tons of people with dusty instruments and a desire to play them, but nowhere to, as the saying goes, blow their horn.

So, she got a blessing from the Really Terrible Orchestra of Scotland to start her own. She made some fliers complete with the motto. And she posted them in delis and on signboards around town.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2009, the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester held their first rehearsal. There was a flute, a saxophone, and two clarinets, with Ms. Rosenthal learning conducting on the fly. Together, they played “Londonderry Air.”

A few weeks later, Amy Hall walked into a Westchester deli. She’d played the bassoon once, but life had gotten in the way. Then her father had died earlier that year. But when she saw Ms. Rosenthal’s poster, it made her chuckle, which she hadn’t done in a while. So, she joined. As did several others.

Today, Westchester’s splendid substandard symphony, as they are also known, has about 40 members, ages 18 to 80ish.

Over the years, they’ve had gigs at the Greenburgh Public Library, the East Hartsdale farmers market, and the Bristal Assisted Living community. Selections have included Beethoven’s “Egmont,” John Philip Sousa’s “Gladiator’s March,” and a medley from My Fair Lady.

We don’t let rusty skills or fear of success get in the way of philharmonic fun, is what they say.

Or, as author Henry van Dyke would say:

“Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except the best.”

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