In a small hall surrounded by bushland in Perth’s south-eastern fringe, a community orchestra gathers every Monday night to play.
Violinist, teacher and proud Armadale local Rachel John founded the Classic Sounds Orchestra Association 15 years ago to give musicians in the area a chance to play in an ensemble.
“When I was teaching music in schools, I was finding that I had really good retention of my students, because they also had an ensemble component,” Ms John said.
“It was one of the special things that I thought that I should offer to my private students.
“And I just thought, I’m in Armadale, I’d love to give those sorts of opportunities in our region.”
The association has since expanded to three orchestras and two ensembles, organised around playing ability, rather than age, with kids and adults playing together.
“It’s not about the specific ages, it’s about being a musician,” she said.
While it’s unusual, Ms John said having children as young as seven play alongside adults with decades of experience worked surprisingly well.
“The little kids become more mature because they’re in a big kids’ group.
“And the adults love the fact that they’re sharing something with children.
Forty kilometres from the centre of Perth and classed as a low socio-economic area, many City of Armadale residents say the area has an undeserved “bad image” and a reputation for being rough and troubled.
“I do think it’s a bit unfair,” Ms John said of the place she’s called home for 30 years.
“I’m certainly not going to blindly say there are no dysfunctional families and we are not a working class or low-income area.”
But she said it was also a beautiful area to live, surrounded by bushland and fruit growers, with affordable housing and plenty to do.
“We are right on the base of the Darling Scarp and because of that there are some gorgeous places where you can drive up through the hills,” she said.
“We are literally right on the edge of farmland and a rural lifestyle, really close to orchards.
Ms John said maybe the biggest and most special thing for her was the hub of artistry there.
Not only is the orchestra a chance for local musicians to come together, it also brings music to the whole community with its performances.
The City of Armadale has recently given the Classic Sounds Orchestra Association a COVID recovery grant, to run Meet the Orchestra concerts for local school children.
“There are a lot of orchestras that do these sorts of things, the Youth Orchestra, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, they all do it.
“But this is us, this is the locals doing it.
“It’s an opportunity for local children to be able to see, perhaps for the very first time, live music right up close and held in our Armadale District Hall.
For tuba player Troy Hawkins, playing in the orchestra is a chance to keep doing something he has loved since high school.
Playing alongside children as young as seven is a lot of fun.
“It’s also a bit nostalgic as well, you can have a look at where you’ve come from,” he said.
“You can also help them through basic mistakes they have working as a team, which is very important, I think, being able to give them some leadership and direction at such an early age.”
Rachel Thompson, also a music teacher and violinist, plays in the orchestra alongside three of her four children.
“I just loved the whole community feel. For me, it’s about everyone just getting together and having a common interest.
“My kids, they’re exposed to all kinds of different people, different jobs, people from different backgrounds, and all ages.
“A lot of the people that the kids are talking to have life experiences that they share with my kids.”
While Monday night practice was disrupted by COVID restrictions last year, being able to get together has been about more than just playing.
“For so many of us Monday is the most wonderful day of the week,” Ms John said.
“Human beings are such social people that I think that more than ever, organisations like ours are really important for strengthening emotional and mental health.
“And from the other side, we get some lovely audiences, people who just love hearing great music played by local musicians in local venues.
“So there’s just this cheerfulness around us.”