When Bribie Island Orchestra Director Martin White assembles his musicians for their concert in the Foley Street Retirement Village hall on July 29th, the occasion will mark twenty-five years since the orchestra gave their inaugural performance at the very same venue and the continued popularity of this well-known group of musicians must be attributed to not only the quality performances of those musicians but also the absolute dedication and musical expertise of the founder.
This is the story of that man who says that he never expected the orchestra to keep going for so long. Martin White was born in the New Zealand city of Christchurch and from what he has told me, it seems very unlikely that he would have ever considered following a career which did not involve music. Martin told me that his mother was a pianist and his father played the violin. ‘As soon as I was old enough to sit on the stool I started having a go at the piano and I played it by ear for several years.
My sister taught me to read music and I always had a good memory for it. I never had any piano lessons until later when I was taught by the best piano teacher in the country who was a personal friend of my family. His name was Ernest Empson and he was taught by Leopold Godovski who was the best in the world at that time,’ said Martin. ‘Empson had also taught my mother and people used to travel from far and wide to be taught by him. At one stage I thought about becoming a concert pianist but decided that there were too many things to go wrong with that plan,’ Martin pointed out.
‘I have been associated with choirs and orchestras for seventy years now and that all began when I was in a nice little boy’s choir in 1948 and ’49. When I started high school, I joined the brass band which I played in every week for four years and while I was there I was taught the violin by the school music teacher,’ Martin told me. ‘After school, I went to university where I attained a degree in musical composition and also qualified as a secondary schoolteacher so whenever I worked in that capacity, and that included my time in England, I could compose music to be used at the schools,’ he said.
The orchestra as it was in the early years
This man who obviously loves all things musical commented that both his children are accomplished violinists (taught by their dad, no doubt) and whilst daughter Cassandra plays a variety of instruments in four orchestras around Brisbane and occasionally adds her talents to the Bribie Island Orchestra, son Brinley came to Australia after being invited to play as lead in the Queensland Youth Orchestra.
He is now a soloist in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. He has now been a professional violinist for thirty-five years. Martin and his wife Heather came to Australia in 1987 and following three years in Brisbane, moved to their current home at Sandstone Point. Martin said that at that time he thought he had retired but, as these things do, word of his talents got around and before long he was approached by someone who wanted him to teach violin at the school.
‘There were a few old violins in the cupboard at the school and although we all thought they would suffice, seventeen parents came forward wanting their children taught,’ said Martin. ‘For some time, I was paid directly by the parents until the Department finally decided to actually employ me in the role of music teacher,’ he recalled. After fourteen years passing on his talents to students at all schools on the island, Martin made the decision to retire for what he says was the third time and as this was approaching, he organised a concert by fifty-five of his students who he chose from the over one hundred compliment of violin students across the three schools and this was, of course, the start of the Bribie Island Orchestra and he tells the story about how, although he expected it to disappear when he did retire, people kept wanting to join and even those who have retired as musicians some time ago have been inspired to join.
‘I approached Bert Shepherd who had been in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra for over thirty years to see if he had any students who might want to join,’ said Martin. ‘He told me that he wouldn’t mind joining himself and he came on board as the leader, playing right up until about two weeks before he passed away. The role of leader was then taken over by another talented violinist who had been the deputy leader under Bert and that was John Arnold, the Anglican Vicar,’ he said. Martin and Heather (an accomplished violinist in her own right,) are totally dedicated to furthering the appreciation of music amongst our community and in fact, for many years Martin has been hosting weekly music appreciation classes at his home.
The Bribie Island Orchestra practices every Sunday evening at Heather’s and
He mentioned that during music intervals at the concerts, he sometimes talks about issues that are relevant to music appreciation. ‘I remember one instance when I was about to do that and I said, “Can you hear me at the back?” A voice replied, “Yes, unfortunately!”’ At the 25th anniversary concert, Martin plans to recreate some of the musical items which the orchestra has performed in the past and I’m sure that one of these will be one from the orchestra’s very first concert which was “Handel’s March for Scipio.”
From the Bribie Island Orchestra’s opening concert in July of 1993 until now, the dedication of Martin and Heather White, along with the talent of all the musicians in the group, has resulted in their concerts being known as a great evening’s entertainment and as such are always sold out and when such an extraordinarily gifted musician as Martin White is involved, this should come as no surprise.
The Bribie Island Orchestra’s 25th-anniversary concert will commence at 6.30 pm in the Foley Street Retirement Village hall and to make sure of a reservation or to enquire about joining the orchestra, you can give Heather a call on 5497 5818.