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Tommy’s instruments take centre stage for orchestra

REHEARSALS for the Shetland Community Orchestra’s autumn concert are well underway, with this year’s performance set to showcase the talents of local instrument-maker Tommy Isbister.

In addition to being the first outing for the orchestra’s new set of timpani, Isbister’s handiwork will be displayed as a cello, a viola and two violins take centre stage in Haydn’s Emperor quartet.

A joiner by trade, Tommy has worked the Burland croft with his with Mary since 1977, and is best known as a skilled maker of traditional Shetland fishing boats or yoals. Less well known are the fruits of his winter hobby – 29 violins, one viola and one cello to date.

His instruments are played from New Zealand to the US, but are steeped in Shetland tradition. The back of the viola was made from an old sycamore table from the Voe bake shop.

“I like to think of that one as ‘Da Flooer o Voe’,” he laughs.

Several of the violins were carved from maple transported from America to Frakkafield by keen gardener Robin Sinclair, who brought the seeds home with him on his annual visits to Shetland.

The maple had 50 growth rings when it was felled and Robin later bought two of the instruments for his granddaughters. A third will feature in the concert.

The beautiful second movement of the Haydn quartet – better known as the German national anthem – forms part of a varied programme which includes Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings, Dvorak’s Serenade for Wind Instruments and a selection from Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites.

The orchestra will also be marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme with The Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth, an English composer killed in action as part of the Somme offensive in August 2016.

The concert is in St Columba’s Church (the Big Kirk), Lerwick on Saturday 1 October at 7.30pm. The audience is invited to join the orchestra afterwards for teas and home bakes.

  • Tickets are priced £10/£6 and are available from Shetland Box Office or on the door. The community orchestra and training orchestra are always looking for new members – you can email if you are interested.