Blog: This term in the Music Department

I have to be honest: I did not hold out much hope in September for a musically stimulating and rewarding term.

The guidelines in the Government’s ‘Safe Re-Opening of Schools’, whilst encouraging music and recognising the importance and value of it within schools, laid before us a seemingly prohibitive number of regulations. We were faced with questions such as: How could we get our ensembles going again safely? How can we ensure that our tradition of choral singing does not go to pot? How can we give pupils the opportunity to perform, given that we cannot hold any actual concerts with guests in the audience? And how can we work with other departments across the School to make sure the provision to pupils is stellar as we want it to be?

And so the term got underway: face-to-face music lessons resumed after months of ‘zooming’ and both the instrumental teachers and the pupils seemed delighted to see each other in the flesh (safely distanced, of course with perspex screens for certain instruments, ventilation and hand-sanitiser aplenty, max-air-flow considerations and obsessively-measured zones marked out across the department). We then managed to carve out a way to give all pupils the opportunity to make music, either through Bubble Bands (because, of course, our usual mixed year-group ensembles could not run), or through other groups such as Vox, Ukulele Club (for both seniors and juniors), Recorder Club, Theory Club(s), and even a Percussion Club for Years 3 & 4. Admittedly, and frustratingly, it has not been possible to run our usual full range of activities and ensembles because of the government restrictions and their impact on space, movement and timings, but I am immensely proud that we have been able to keep music in the spotlight and of what our pupils have been able to achieve.

There is no doubt that we have had a great many rewarding moments this term. Take, for example, the Year 3 & 4 Bubble Band: at the start of term we formed a 24-strong orchestra (with an eclectic mix of instruments!), including pupils who had either just started learning their instrument and who perhaps could play only one or two notes. This presented us with a challenge; that is, finding music that allowed everyone to join in but only required them to play one or two notes. But, we found some music (and wrote out some slightly ‘alternative’ parts) and rehearsals began. The learning curve for this new-look, diverse and distantly-spaced orchestra – and its directors – has been a steep one; it took a while for pupils to learn the skill of responding to a conductor, listening to each other, listening to their own tuning, and also the skill of keeping on going even if they’d got something wrong or momentarily losing their place. This week we filmed the Year 3 & 4 Bubble Band playing our version of the ‘Surprise Symphony’ by Haydn, and once the final note had finished ringing out I could not help grinning from ear to ear: what that group has achieved this term is remarkable, and the progress that the pupils have made really is excellent. I told them as much, and they beamed too.

As well as our instrumental music, our choirs are a source of real pride here at ECS. We would ordinarily be running three very large choirs and of course, they have not been able to take place. Determined to keep as much singing going as possible, we turned each class into a choir and next week we will be sharing with you their performances. The pupils should be extremely pleased with their work: to suddenly be asked to shift from being shoulder-to-shoulder in amongst 40 people to  effectively singing in a ‘chamber choir’ – 15 singers, each a metre apart from their neighbour and all standing concert-style – is daunting for any musician, and the pupils have risen to this challenge with aplomb.

This brings me neatly onto what you can expect in the next couple of weeks in terms of showcasing our music this term. Ordinarily, we would have had the ‘Autumn Concert’ in the cathedral, with parents and friends in the audience; it has been very sad that we have not been able to invite you in to see what’s been going on through our usual live concerts. However, determined that the show must go on, we have filmed all of our ensembles in action over the last two weeks, including the form groups singing their own ‘class songs’: I am in awe of Mr Roberts’ ability to whip out a new song whenever needed! Some of the performances are very much a ‘one-take-wonder’; the idea is that we are capturing the performances as they are now in order to give you a flavour of the fun that we have been having in the department through our recorded concert: ‘Bubbled-Up: The Show Must Go On’. Next week we are also going to hold some in-house informal concerts for each Bubble, to give pupils some solo performance opportunities and show each other the progress that they have made this term. The dates are as follows (Year 7 & 8 tbc):

Wednesday 2nd December: Year 4

Friday 4th December: Years 3, 5 & 6

Finally, preparations for our virtual Carol Service are well under-way and filming for this has almost finished. I am very grateful to our pupils and the staff for being very accommodating of this and look forward to being able to share this with you at the end of term.

Mrs Julia Featherstone 

Director of Music 

27 November 2020
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