OM Focus: Rosie Wintour (MM 1996-2001)

Congratulations on the 5th anniversary of Pico Players! What led to you setting up the group?

On my first day at Marlborough, Mr Arkwright hoisted my trunk out of the boot of my parents’ car, saw my surname and said, “ah, Rosie Wintour, Grade 5 flute, see you at Brasser on Tues!” Or something to that effect. My ensemble & orchestra playing was a huge part of my time at school. Inevitably, other things started to take priority at university and I fell out of the habit of playing with others. It was several years into living & working in London when I realised how much I missed it! Of course by then I was back to being a pretty rusty flautist and not nearly good enough to audition for a coveted spot in anyone else’s orchestra so I decided the safest way was to start my own and then they couldn’t kick me out for being a bit out of practice!

A friend of mine who was at Harrow and who studied Music at Cambridge was a gifted conductor and I knew I needed him to make it happen. So I pestered him for 8 years while he was toiling away as a trainee lawyer at Slaughter & May. The opportunity to give it a shot came when he moved jobs to be an in-house lawyer at Macquarie. We emailed everyone we’d ever met (before the days of GDPR!) and invited people to join us on the adventure. We decided to set the bar at “had been Grade 8 at some point, even if that was decades ago” to this day I don’t think he knows that I don’t meet the criteria myself, I only got as far as Grade 7!

Is it very different now to those first few gatherings?

We held our first rehearsal in a student bar of Kings College London, the room smelt strongly of stale beer and sweat! We had about 8 people, mostly wind players. We scratched our way through some pieces and held onto the belief that there would be others in our position that also fancied dusting off the rust & dust from their instruments and could join us. Slowly but surely the orchestra grew, mostly by word of mouth.

Nowadays we have about 70 regularly playing members and a waiting list for some sections! It couldn’t be more different.

How often do you get to perform?

We perform three main concerts a year, it seems we also missed the school term rhythm! In between which we try and look for other opportunities to do some more fun pop-ups. For example we play in St James’ Park every summer with an empty conductors podium and a sign saying “Conduct Us!” We invite passing members of the public to have a go at conducting and it’s become a real highlight of the year! We’ve been a challenge for the competitors of something called Midnight Madness (an overnight team fundraiser where competitors have a series of challenges to complete through the night in a race to the finish). We also partner with a brilliant charity called Music in Secondary Schools Trust that run a Saturday orchestra for disadvantaged kids in London. We play amongst them and try to extol the virtue of playing an instrument for its own sake and not necessarily to make it their primary career though I suspect some of them will end up doing so as they’re extremely good!

What’s your most high profile performance to date?

Our most high profile performance to date has to have been our appearance on Strictly a few years’ back! Danny Mac & Oti Mabuse came to our rehearsal to learn how to conduct an orchestra and we learnt to play their song that week “I can’t dance” and the Strictly theme tune! It was a fleeting performance shown in their pre-dance VT but it was so exciting to be a part of; our website hits shot up that day!!

The Pico Players are a registered charity. What sorts of organisations have you raised money for?

We pick a different charity each month to donate our ticket proceeds to. The orchestra are invited to nominate causes they want to support and then the committee vote. They’ve been a mixture of musical and non-musical charities but all have been worthy causes. We’ve raised over £60k so far. The charity we’ve chosen for our 5 Year Anniversary concert in Nov we’re supporting The Choir With No Name which is an amazing charity that runs choirs for the homeless and disadvantaged. If we sell out the Cadogan Hall (which is the dream but a tough ask with 800+ seats!) we stand to raise over £10k for them which would make us their third largest donor!

So… what next?

What’s been amazing is that we haven’t really had a plan! We’ve just said yes to opportunities that have come our way. Occasionally we have another mad idea (like booking the enormous Southwark Cathedral for next year’s carol concert!) and then we just find a way to make it happen! We’ve been invited to play at Lismore Cathedral in Ireland to help raise funds for some renovation works. The orchestra are very keen to go on tour (memories of the Brasser South Africa tour are vivid in my memory, I am sure it would be just as fun!) I could fill my whole week organising Pico adventures but I have to remind myself often that Paddy & I also have a full-time jobs!! We hope one day to be able to afford to pay someone to run the administrative side. I think there’s such an appetite for more amateur music and so much more we can do to support music education in schools and communities.

One of the things I love is when OMs join! A particular highlight was when Ellen Arkwright (MM 2007-12) joined on the trumpet! She was toddling around C3 when I started Marlborough – who would have known then she’d end up becoming a professional musician! Will (LI 2004-09) & Tom (LI 2001-06) Hooker also both feature heavily in the Pico line up. Will plays the cello and also conducts regularly (he will be conducting this year’s Christmas show on 10th Dec) and Tom plays the horn and trumpet and does arrangements of pieces for us! But there are many others who are (or have been) members of the orchestra.

Our next fixture is at Cadogan Hall on Fri 8th November and we’ve been asking our former music teachers to come along as our guests in order to show them what an impact their teaching can have even decades down the line! I’m hoping that Mr A, Miss Toomer and Howard Nelson will be amongst the crowd as influential people in my musical journey.