Our Town: The Usual: Really Terrible Orchestra

“We’re trying really hard, but we know better than to take ourselves too seriously.” 

–Trish Kirkpatrick, French horn player, Really Terrible Orchestra of the Triangle

by Catherine Currin

photographs by Madeline Gray

A Cary group has been salvaging talent from seeming incompetence for a decade, and they’re proud of it. The Really Terrible Orchestra of the Triangle, inspired by a similarly named group in Edinborough, Scotland, is meant to be a haven for amateur musicians: “If someone can breathe and read music, we take them,” says artistic director and conductor Dr. Bob Petters. “I’ve had people audition that are too good for this group.”

Orchestra members feel comfortable because of the intentionally low skill level bar. “There are lots of very talented musicians in this area, and very significant organizations for them to play in. But there was nothing for amateurs,” says executive committee member and French horn player Trish Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick says rehearsals and seasonal performances with this friendly group of more than 80 musicians are just plain fun. Their holiday performance in December, for instance, featured light-strung tubas and 300 kazoos handed out to a lively audience at the Cary Arts Center.

By the end of the show, Kirkpatrick says, the musicians’ irreverence rubs off on the audience. There are usually groups of kids dancing in the aisle, she says, “we encourage people to leave their cell phones on, and if you get bored we have word games and coloring pages in the program.”

The RTOOT has grown from a friends and family performing group in 2008 to playing for frequently sold-out community centers. The only professional in the room might be the leader: Petters has conducted the group for three years, after retiring as the chair of the music department at N.C. State. “It’s been wonderful because it’s a no-stress position. We aren’t competing with the other orchestras in the area.”