Apr 15, 2024

Bach and Better Than Ever: The Success of Trinity Orchestra

Sadie Loughman speaks to Trinity Orchestra about their seamless blend between classical and pop music.

Classical music and orchestra remain in the zeitgeist, with Bradley Cooper’s 2023 film Maestro, based on the life of composer Leonard Bernstein, receiving critical praise. If your TikTok is anything like mine, you may have come across a video of a young Hozier singing an impressive cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’. What’s more, in a recent interview with bona fide music TikToker Track Star, Hozier revealed that this 2012 performance was alongside Trinity Orchestra during his time as a music student. 

Trinity Orchestra is Ireland’s only entirely student-run orchestra. Founded in 1989, and with seventy-four current members, the orchestra’s repertoire ranges from the songs of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff to pop sensations like ABBA. The group operates as a full scale symphony orchestra, with every section from strings to wind to brass. The society’s success highlights the devotion of the younger generation toward classical music, successfully melding pop music with their orchestral performances, and booking gigs across Ireland and overseas. I caught up with Trinity Orchestra’s auditor and chair Emily Sheil to chat about the society’s successes throughout the academic year.

Sheil, a final year Environmental Science student, explains the general functioning of the society throughout the year: “During the academic term we focus on a classical repertoire and we put on a concert at the end of each semester. Then over the summer we lean towards our pop repertoire – we normally start off with Trinity Ball, which is coming up, which we’re really excited for! Then we play festivals throughout the summer.”


In my curiosity, I ask Sheil how the orchestra goes about adapting these modern pieces for a symphony orchestra. “Around this time of year we’ll decide on a new theme for the summer.” Sheil explains, “Our current one is ‘pride’, and the year before was ‘new wave’. We’ve had things before like ABBA and ‘funk’ so there’s a big variety of pop genres. So we decide on a theme and then we create a playlist with some of the biggest hits from that theme that we can envision being played by an orchestra. Then we commission between four to six composers, all of which are Trinity students inside and outside the orchestra”.

The process of composing an entirely new song from the pop genre to be played by an entire symphony orchestra is an impressive feat, as Sheil describes: “All they have is the track and an empty score, and people are so talented – they can just write a full score for a full orchestra.”

Pop songs also allow for a lot of variation in the style, tempo, length and key of this new orchestral interpretation. Sheil is strong in her admiration for these composers each year, many of whom come from Trinity’s own music department. “We’re really grateful for our arrangers, they’re such talented people.”

In terms of their festival sets, Sheil explains that Trinity Ball restricts the orchestra to a thirty-minute set. However, in playing Forbidden Fruit and All Together Now, the orchestra has an hour-long set. “We play two different sets for each of those festivals”, Emily explains. The orchestra continues its practice outside the college semester, producing completely new and perfected performances over the summer months. Alongside this festival lineup, Trinity Orchestra will also be opening for the iconic rock and roll singer Rod Stewart in May.

“It’s so crazy,” says Sheil, describing how the opportunity to open for Rod Stewart came about. “Honestly we just got an email from the same people who organise Forbidden Fruit and All Together Now. I guess they like us! We have a reputation and try to be as professional as possible and they just asked if we would do another gig this summer. It’s a really big compliment to us.” 

I ask Sheil how the orchestra is preparing for Trinity Ball, with what has been named ‘Europe’s largest private party’ approaching quickly. “We have a really busy April because we have our classical concert on Saturday April 6th and then the following Friday is Trinity Ball. So we have one week to prepare for Trinity Ball because right now all of our focus is on our classical repertoire. But we have two rehearsals and we’ve played the music before so it’s just going to be a matter of paying attention in rehearsal and getting it together. The pop music rehearsal is different because we bring in a band and singers so there are some unconventional instruments like a drum kit, a bass guitar and keyboard who don’t usually play with us.”

Sheil explains that the rehearsals can be quite intense – with a full sound system, microphones and new additions to the orchestra. If you were lucky enough to get a hallowed Trinity Ball ticket, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the hard work that Trinity Orchestra have put into their set in such a short space of time. 

In terms of future prospects, Sheil says the main goal of the orchestra is to simply keep up the momentum and motivation.

“It’s an interesting society in that we are strict on attendance and we do ask people to show up every week for rehearsal, while in other societies you might come and go as you please. So that motivation is really important… I guess overall we want to have a good summer season and come back in September stronger than ever.”

Looking back on the past academic year, Sheil highlights the versatility of talent within the orchestra as well as the strong bonds forged among its members.

“I know a big highlight for us was, just thinking back in September, we did a culture night event. We got an opportunity to perform not as a full-scale orchestra but as smaller groups, which was a really lovely way of showcasing the individual talent within the orchestra. Not only that but we got to explore lots of different genres. We had a group playing trad, a group playing pop music, so it was quite a broad showcase of talent which was really nice.”

In reminiscing on the events of the past academic year, the conversation moves to the orchestra’s Glasgow trip in January, which had some slight hiccups.

“We did a collaboration concert with Strathclyde University Symphony Orchestra. The concert went really well, the whole trip went really well – until we tried to get home and there was a storm and our flights were cancelled.”

Sheil recalls the day as very stressful, trying to figure out how on earth to transport around fifty players, along with their instruments, back to Dublin. As Storm Isha raged on, the auditor found herself tasked with finding another two nights of accommodation and new flights home for a horde of students. However, the stress of the events made Sheil all the more grateful for her fellow members.

“Everyone was so willing to help, even the members who aren’t on the committee. It’s kind of one of those times where you’re put in a stressful situation and everyone ends up bonding more.”

Trinity Orchestra has evidently moved from strength to strength. For those interested in joining Trinity Orchestra next academic year, Sheil advises getting to the freshers’ fair stand as early as possible.

“We do have limited audition places and it is competitive to get into, so I would recommend having something prepared for your audition in September.” 

The orchestra’s second semester performance will be held on April 6th at 7pm in the Trinity Exam Hall, and you can catch one of the orchestra’s pop performances over the summer at Forbidden Fruit, All Together Now and Rod Stewart.

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