BBC Radio 3 has commissioned the hugely popular author - and keen amateur bassoonist - Alexander Mccall Smith to write a serial about an amateur orchestra that will be broadcast during Listen Up!
' La's orchestra saves the world ' is a touching tale that tells how a Suffolk woman's determination to form an orchestra inspired love and hope during World War II. McCall Smith will read the story himself in 15 instalments on BBC Radio 3, beginning on Monday 2 October. La lived in a small town on the Suffolk coast. She arrived there in 1938 and founded an orchestra. She had married young and was widowed at the age of 32. La started the orchestra instead of inviting one from London as she felt there was an 'abundance' of local talent. She spoke to the editor of the local newspaper who placed an ad despite his misgivings.
There was a surprising amount of local talent including retired professional players and competent amateurs. The orchestra carried on into the war years giving concerts for the forces as La knew 'music helps'. Their finest hour came playing for a VIP guest who waved a cigar at them before he left, agreeing 'music helps'.
La could not play an instrument. Her main contribution was copying out missing parts. Sometimes she woke in the night and worried what would happen if the conductor could no longer conduct or worse still if the country was invaded. However no-one really thought that this would happen. As one Polish member of the orchestra put it 'because music is on our side'.
This Polish exile, who was called Felix, had been invalided from the army and now worked on a local farm. He was a quiet, unconfident man who never spoke about what had happened to him. La had first met him when he came to one of the orchestra's concerts. He had confessed to her, over a cup of tea, that he played the flute.
La went to Cambridge by train and walked to the shop. The man in the shop handed over the flute. La sat in a tearoom and examined the flute which she was going to give to Felix. She knew his cottage was dark, but having a flute would make it easier.
La rode her bicycle out to Felix's cottage with the flute. He was in and seemed surprised to see her. She handed him the leather case. 'I can not pay' he said. She listened as he played and asked him to join the orchestra. He agreed, it would be rude not to.
The following week Felix came for his first orchestral practice. During the break La saw Felix was standing on his own, but one of the female violinists spoke to him before La could. Why should she be jealous? He meant nothing to her, but she had bought him the flute. At the end of the rehearsal Felix came over and asked why La was cross with him - was it because he had been speaking to that violinist?
Felix came to her house. La wondered how he knew where she lived. He had brought the flute. 'I've brought it back' he said, he couldn't pay for it. La wanted him to have the flute and play in the orchestra. He could work in her garden to pay for it - it would be a fair exchange.
He would come 3 days a week to work in the garden. After he'd finished work La would watch him walk away and feel lonely - 'but I can never allow myself to fall in love with him' she told herself. The orchestra prepared for a particularly challenging concert which was a great success. After the concert she asked him what he would do after the war - 'I'm comfortable here' he said, I like your little orchestra.