My first five years as Director of Music at Monkton have flown by. In 2009 I inherited a music department which was, in physical terms, little more than a shed; in fact, when it was built in 1959, the ground floor was the bikeshed! Being involved in every detail of the planning and building of the new Music Centre has been the most extraordinary experience, and indeed a huge privilege. However, exciting as this has been, the real challenge was always going to be to turn an educational vision – “enabling every pupil to find their own voice” – into a reality. Reflecting on this year’s House Music Festival, just three weeks into term, it is clear to see that things are really beginning to move in the right direction now. And with the addition of two new music staff, Peter Wilson-Lambert (Assistant Director of Music) and Richard Mainwaring (Recording Studio Manager) we now have plenty more hands to carry that forward. There are exciting times ahead.
The Choir who can’t sing has, in retrospect, played a much bigger part in all of this then I ever imagined it would. Those boys who, in year 10, sang in the choir at the black tie dinner to celebrate the opening of the new Music Centre, are now in year 13. In House Music two years ago, Grove House took this model and surprised everyone by giving one of the stand-out performances of the evening with When you say nothing at all. The following year two of the other boys’ houses followed suit (although the Nutfield girls won the Vocal Ensemble), and this year, all four boys houses presented a house choir with a minimum of three parts. Most of them were boys who rarely, if ever, set foot in the music department, but all of them were totally committed to standing on stage and singing in front of the whole school. Many are ‘graduates’ of the Choir who can’t sing! Three years ago, even the weakest performance from last Saturday night would have won them the Vocal Ensemble trophy. Except that the bar is now higher – much higher. Farm’s rendition of Hey Yah by Outkast on Saturday night was simply amazing.
The House Songs were not only wonderfully entertaining but really well sung too! It’s a funny time of year, the run up to House Music. Wandering around the school campus at 5.15 on a Monday afternoon, you can hear riotous whole house singing coming from the Dining Hall, the Bewick Lecture Theatre, the Chapel and Assembly Hall, with The Beach Boys merging seemlessly into Chaka Khan or ELO! Five years ago, the girls took their singing very seriously, as they still do, but there were great swathes of boys in each house who really weren’t prepared to play ball. This Saturday night I watched the most unlikely boys giving it their all.
What I love most about Monkton is seeing young people learning to be themselves, learning to be content with who they are, and being confident to express that. And if you listen to the cheer from the capacity audience at the end of the Farm boys’ performance of Hey Yah (and yes, this is taken straight from the live performance on Saturday night) I think you’ll agree that this says it all.