AN ONLINE orchestra formed by two Pembrokeshire music professionals is going from strength to strength and is now raising funds to support its musician members and initiating local grassroots projects in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion.

During June 2020, The West End of Wales (The WeoW) was formed by Laura Llewellyn-Jones, originally from Pembroke, and Iestyn Griffiths, from Haverfordwest, to perform a one off 'virtual performance' for social media, featuring Aaron Pryce- Lewis singing "Stars" from Les Miserables.

Laura rang around many of her old friends and colleagues in the theatre industry who she knew were from west Wales while Iestyn agreed to do take care of the technical side of things.

More than 15 Pembrokeshire musicians agreed to take part. All of whom initially learnt their craft through the Pembrokeshire Music service.

The musicians in are all from west Wales, and can usually be found in the orchestra pits of the West End and touring shows such as Dear Evan Hansen, & Juliet, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Bat out of Hell.

Some have jobs in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic and the RTE Symphony Orchestra whilst some are established freelancers and respected educators.

The initial video, made to raise awareness of the devastation of the Arts during the pandemic, raised over £500 for the charity Help Musicians. A second video from Phantom of the Opera raised a further £300 for the charity.

As the WeoW's popularity grew on social media it were approached by Steffan Rhys Hughes to collaborate with The Welsh of The West End singers for a third and fourth video.

"At this point, The WeoW were made aware that several of its musicians had been in receipt of the hardship grant from Help Musicians," said Laura. "this was the very charity we had been raising funds for.

"We decided to become a community interest company, meaning that any funds raised from further videos could be ploughed back into The WeoW to help and reward our own musicians for their time and skill.

The orchestra also has several ongoing projects at a grassroots level, fulfilling its motto 'inspiring and supporting Welsh musicians'.

It has recently embarked upon a large education project with Ceredigion Music Service, and has been working this term to support and inspire the next generation of musicians who are also suffering in these times.

The Friends of Ceredigion Young Musicians was successful in their application for funding from the Arts Council of Wales, so this project can be delivered.

"This project is particularly poignant, as we are working at grassroots level, within the music service system that many of us came through before entering the profession," said Laura.

"Restrictions put upon music making and social gatherings has made any rehearsals together impossible for the students within the music service who are usually busy with school and extra-curricular music making.

"All the fun, social elements of music making have been taken away and The WeoW is hoping to bring back the enjoyment of music making and are giving the students the chance to work with well-known industry professionals, via remote coaching and sectionals - with recording instructions - thus creating a 'virtual performance' in lieu of the usual December performance"

The virtual performance will be presented online on December 22nd via the social media channels of The WeoW, which are @theweow for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The WeoW is also working with Haverfordwest High School music teacher- Lisa Shelmerdine Richards, who is an accomplished songwriter, to record one of her songs which she has composed and orchestrated for WeoW.

"Most importantly we have been working to keep music, and musical enjoyment alive in these very strange times while endeavouring to provide some paid work for our professional musicians and fulfilling our CIC motto of 'inspiring and supporting Welsh musicians'," added Laura.

The sixth video offering from The WeoW for social media features West End star, Luke McCall, and can be found on The West End of Wales Facebook page.

There are three more videos planned for December.