Big name and big talents recreate the sound of another era
IT'S a mouthful of a name, but it's unique in Australia and chock full of young talent playing the tunes of a bygone era-The New Empire Ballroom Ragtime Dance Orchestra.
Founder Barney Waters, now 70, has been playing music since he was eight, in symphony orchestras, concert bands, musicals and choirs.
He developed the New Empire group eight years ago to play the music which he said he had always loved - 1895-1920s Ragtime and 1920-1933s Hot Jazz.
While playing with the Central Coast Symphony Orchestra, he approached a number of young musicians about the idea, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The orchestra comprises 18 musicians 15-24 years old, with occasional "ring-ins" of more experienced players to fill in gaps.
Together they successfully produce "an authentic recreation of the music that would have filled the ballrooms, dance halls and radios at that time".
About 100 musicians have taken part over the years, with many going on to professional careers.
"These kids are dynamic - I'm really proud of what we've achieved," Barney said.
And it hasn't been easy, with Barney determined the orchestra will be paid professionals, and many unwilling to book such a large orchestra.
"I've had people say, 'if you could cut it back to six or eight people' ... but that wouldn't do the music justice," he said.
Others expect the band - despite its professionalism, instruments and equipment and 1920s costumes - to play for free, something Barney said they would only do for charity.
"We could play every weekend if we wanted to play for free!" he said. "You've got to draw the line somewhere."
But what makes the music appealing to young people, who in many cases have never heard it before, and in others think it's original Michael Buble material?
According to Barney, it's partially the challenge of the music itself and of continually learning new pieces, which they have to sight-read.
"If you look at any of the big bands, the musicians have all started off in smaller groups like this - you have to learn your craft," he said.
"And we've had some absolute rippers of musicians; some amazing violinists."
You can hear The New Empire Ballroom Ragtime Dance Orchestra perform Music of the ANZACS - memorable tunes from the Great War such as I'm For Ever Blowing Bubbles, and I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now - at Gosford RSL from 2pm on Sunday, April 15. Cost $15.
Find them on Facebook and listen to them on YouTube, or call Barney on 0410420748.