Oamaru is a small town but it is home to hundreds of different clubs and organisations. The Oamaru Mail has decided to find out more about some of them. Reporter Daniel Birchfield meets members of the Oamaru Electronic Organ Society to find out more about their style of music.
Every so often, members of the Oamaru Electronic Organ Society have been known to break with tradition and perform musical numbers of a more recent vintage.
For example, the sounds of Abba have rung out around the Eveline Church hall, where the society holds its monthly meetings from February to December.
The society was formed in 1980 by Joe Jones, Stan Rusbatch and Doug Andrew after the three got talking and started to spread the word to gauge interest.
An advertisement was played on Radio Waitaki to attract people to the society’s first meeting, which took place at Mr Jones’ house in Exe St. A total of 27 people turned out that night and a short time later, after the society’s third official meeting, the local Girl Guide hall was hired out.
As the group’s numbers continued to grow, meetings were relocated to the Oamaru Fire Station, where the society’s first concert was held.
Information provided by Oamaru Electronic Organ Society president Lorraine Bremner, who joined in 1986, showed the society’s first list of members totalled 34 in 1980.
Numbers increased steadily and in the 1990s, hit the 200 mark.
“We even had a waiting list,” she said.
Today, the society has 56 members, many of whom bring their own electronic keyboards along to play music from the 1930s to the 1950s.
“Now and again, we branch out. We have branched out to Abba.”
Mrs Bremner said at each meeting, one member would open proceedings by playing for about half an hour while people arrived, before she formally welcomed them.
Any birthday or anniversary congratulations were announced before foundation and life member Eunice Murray played the society’s songs – Here We Are Again and Friends and Music
The organisers (two committee members) of that month’s meeting then took over and introduced that evening’s entertainers.
Mrs Murray said the meetings were always fun and felt more like concerts.
“It’s the friends and music. We have several little groups within it, but there’s not as many these days.”
Those smaller groups performed at each other’s homes on a regular basis.
“A few members still have an organ or a piano in their homes.”
The society also performed at Oamaru’s rest-homes to entertain the elderly, who knew all of the tunes well.
Mrs Bremner said while the society’s numbers were steady, it was difficult to attract new members, especially younger ones.
“It’s different now – not only with the organ club, but other clubs. A lot of people in their 30s and 40s have got different interests, particularly in music. It’s not the same as it used to be.
“Phones are all of a sudden the music source. It’s always there. It’s not real music.”
She said many people came along to listen to the music played, but did not actually play themselves.
Despite that, both women were confident the club would survive into the future.