Chamber Choir: developing the vision

In May last year our newly formed Chamber Choir gave a short recital, and looking back now I can see that, despite being a fairly low key event, it marked a big step in the development of our music department, certainly from a choral perspective.

The initial purpose of writing here at music@monkton was to chart the development of a music department. In particular, changing aspirations, not just of those falling within the immediate reach of the music department, but for the wider school community as well. Over the past five years singing has been a primary focus; the Choir who can’t sing has engaged the wider school community, as have whole school singing practices, and both of these have had a considerable impact in raising the standard of singing in the House Music Festival. At this level, the most important seed to sow in changing those aspirations has been this: anyone can sing [- enabling every pupil to find their own voice.]

At the same time, at a higher level, the Chapel Choir has gone from strength to strength, and last year I was finally able to form the Chamber Choir, an elite group of sixth form students, many of whom arrived at Monkton at the same time as I did. Don’t misunderstand the word elite here: few, if any, of the founder members of the Chamber Choir had any experience of singing choral music outside Monkton. By elite, I mean the best that we can offer, and more importantly, something for others to aspire to.

The self-imposed brief for the Chamber Choir is very clear – to stretch our most able musicians. This year’s choir has consisted of eleven pupils and two staff, and all of the repertoire which we have covered has been a cappella. And although we have a piano to hand, most of our rehearsal time is also unaccompanied, and so from the start the pupils have to work out for themselves what is going on [aka sight-reading!] The joy of rehearsing in this way is that it forces everyone to focus not only on their own line, but also on the wider context of harmony [vital for intonation] and line in the rest of the choir as well; it sharpens the listening skills and the mind like little else. Our hope is, of course, is to be able to give high quality performances; but this outcome is surely secondary to the learning process itself.

The aspirations of the choir are already very different from those they started with in September. In rehearsal, they expect me to expect them to keep going, so if they get lost it is their responsibility to do their best to join in again. If they’re really struggling I’ll throw them a line, but there is certainly no ‘note-bashing’ in this choir. It’s an exciting way to rehearse; spontaneous, motivating and purposeful.

We have given a number of notable performances this year; in Bath Abbey, Bath’s Salvation Army Citadel, Wingfield Church, the annual MidSomerset Festival, our Summer Concert, and most recently in a concert with Monkton Combe Choral Society. Our first piece in this concert was Philip Stopford’s If ye love me, and I think it’s fair to say that I have never stood before a choir which looked so focused ahead of a performance; a remarkable and thrilling experience which I will genuinely never forget.

We have also formed a Junior Chamber Choir this year, ten boys [!] and ten girls, mainly year 10 and 11, all of whom aspire to progressing up to the main Chamber Choir. Mr Wilson-Lambert is doing a fine job with them, and I’m excited that this first group have a head start on their older peers; our senior Chamber Choir in two years time could be very exciting indeed.

Moving with the times, we haven’t made a CD this year, but you can hear our Chamber Choir here on SoundCloud. Please do feel free to forward to friends!

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2 responses to “Chamber Choir: developing the vision

  1. Jonny Watkins

    How exciting?! Working with you in Chamber Choir at Rugby and learning to sight-read/sing better, keep going at all costs, to use and TRUST my ears has been one of the most valuable times in my music education. I hope the two chamber choirs at Monkton get to use and appreciate these opportunities the way I have!

  2. Pingback: A school which is learning to sing | music@monkton

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