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Over 60 years in the University Orchestra!

Alumnus, Dr Mike Smith, 79 years old, isn’t planning on slowing down any time soon as he re-joins the University Orchestra.

We always love to see our amazing alumni sharing their inspirational stories; Dr Mike Smith's is a truly special one! Mike studied physics between 1958 and 1961, during which he was a member of the University Orchestra where he played the violin. Mike recently contacted our team to inform us that at aged 79 he’s still a member of the University Orchestra, and has been for over a whopping 60 years now. Naturally, we had to enquire a little further to see what he had been up to and Mike came back to us and shared a snapshot of his life. You’ll enjoy reading his mini blog below:

It all started when I was at King's College, University of Durham (as it was in those days) from 1958 to 1961 studying Physics. As I am a Geordie born and bred, I lived at home while I was a student, as most students did in those days. Those from further afield had to find digs locally if there was insufficient room in the halls of residence. I joined the University Orchestra and became leader of the second violins. The Head of Music was Dr Chalmers Burns who had a passion for Brahms so we played a lot of his music. The Orchestra consisted of students (mainly medics and scientists as the Dept. of Music was very small) and older members of staff who could just about manage to play at least some of the right notes in order! We always came to a sudden stop during concerts when things went wrong and that was the time for Chalmers (as we all called him) to address the audience and complain bitterly about the lack of support from the administration for his department.

My time at University was very enjoyable and music played an important part. I played in the Orchestra for the Gilbert & Sullivan Society which gave performances in King's Hall, having to build the stage during the dress rehearsal on the Sunday. The Saturday matinee performance was always for the landladies who filled the place - 'all hats and glasses' as we used to describe them! Another musical activity that I became involved in was playing trumpet (very badly) and drum (not quite so badly) in the Rag Band which would parade through the streets of Newcastle, Morpeth and Whitley Bay during Rag Week - Happy Times!!

The Department of Physics was housed in the Armstrong Building in those days, but in my final year we moved into the splendid new Herschel Building. Merz Court was still a big hole in the ground!

After I graduated, I worked in South Wales and then Gloucestershire for a few years. I then saw a research job advertised in Mechanical Engineering back at Newcastle University (as it had become), which I applied for and was accepted. For the next 35 years, I was a member of staff eventually becoming a Senior Lecturer having obtained my PhD in 1974. 

Music was still an important part of my life and I joined the University Orchestra again (this time on viola), as well as becoming leader of the band for the Gilbert & Sullivan Society for which I played for many years (and was appointed an honorary life member). In parallel with all this musical activity I was co-founder of the New Tyneside Orchestra in 1970 and lead it for 35 years of which I am proud to say it is still thriving.

Looking back over my career, I think I made the right choice between music and science/engineering, as my profession has taken me to lots of interesting places and given me a wonderfully fulfilling career with the opportunity of relaxing by playing music in my 'spare' time. If I had become a professional musician, life would have been a lot different!

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60 Years in Orchestra for university

published on: 30 January 2020