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Lovely Day

In case you haven’t yet seen it on YouTube, here’s our latest Monkton Ukes video, Lovely Day, filmed on the beach at Weston-super-Mare!


Ukulele Club began some seven years ago as a way of drawing in pupils who might not otherwise darken the doors of the music department – no previous experience required, just a willingness to learn and an ability to not take yourself too seriously!

I think it’s fair to say that when our amazing new music building opened in 2012, complete with recording studio suite, it was on the understanding that we were going to have to grow into it. We’ve done that now, and at times we are overflowing…

Our studio, run by Richard Mainwaring, is central to so much of what we do. As well as teaching Music Technology (currently BTEC) in the sixth form, and recording GCSE and A level performance and composition coursework, we have numerous additional projects on the go at any time.


Recording session for ‘Lovely Day’ with Alex and Millie

Our latest Monkton Ukes video isn’t just the result of a day filming on the beach – far from it. Initially Mr Mainwaring put together a backing track, and then gradually replaced elements with live tracks, including trumpets, saxes, strings, ukuleles, vocals, bass and yes, Meg’s delightful recorder playing! The studio offers an amazing learning experience for our musicians and a superb insight into how a recording session works. Playing along with the soundtrack with headphones on, and then listening back, it is really exciting to see and how their line fits into the bigger project. The best thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that this kind of project allows anyone to contribute, from novice to seasoned pro, and to be a part of something which they can be really proud of. Just another way of ensuring that every pupil has the opportunity to get involved.

Here are a few more of our films: Uptown Uke, Happy, You raise me up


An inspirational week of singing

It has been a busy but extremely fulfilling week, and one which has been truly inspiring.


Chamber Choir with Dominic Peckham

Dominic Peckham spent the day at Monkton last Friday, and both senior and prep schools were transfixed by his dynamic and engaging style, as well as his moving account of the formation of the National Youth Choir of Kenya. The whole school was left in no doubt that singing brings people together in a way that little else does. In the afternoon he worked with four of Monkton’s choirs, including an improvisation workshop with our senior Chamber Choir which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen! He has opened our eyes and ears to new possibilities, and there was much talk of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and the London A Cappella Festival. It was a genuine privilege to spend the day with such a fantastic musician and teacher.

2017 Holburne Museum-8305-Edit

Genesis Choir at The Holburne Museum

On Wednesday the Genesis Choir gave their second public performance, at a fundraising event held at the Holburne Museum in Bath. The Garden Cafe has a vibrant acoustic and the choir was thrilled to sing in a venue which did so much to enhance their sound, and this helped their confidence hugely. We sang two songs – Singin’ in the Rain and Here comes the sun, both warmly received by our audience. I am so proud to be a part of this project, and to see how the confidence of each of the choir members has grown in the past six months is simply amazing. I don’t think I could have taken this on without the experience that I have gained working with The Choir who can’t sing at Monkton.


Chapel Choir outside Bath Abbey

The following day our Chapel Choir sang evensong at Bath Abbey, the first time we’ve done this since I’ve been at Monkton. Anglican chant is not standard repertoire for the average Monktonian but they did a wonderful job with the psalm, as well as Dyson’s Mag & Nunc in F and the anthem Love Divine set by Howard Goodall, which we had worked on with Dominic a few days before. This will have been the first ever experience of choral evensong for many in the choir, and they really rose to the occasion.


Francis Faux

On Friday we were visited by Joseph Fort, Director of Choral Music at King’s College, London, who came to hear a few of our sixth formers sing before heading off to Prior Park to work with their Chapel Choir. In the evening we took several of our pupils to hear them perform Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil. As well as being sublime music, it was great for our students to see and hear a real live university choir!

Yesterday, a Saturday ‘Open Door morning’ with numerous families visiting the school, the Chamber Choir had a workshop with Francis Faux and the Noctis Chamber Choir. As well as singing to each other (we performed The King’s Singer’s I’m a train!) we rehearsed pieces by Morley and Ola Gjeilo together, and this culminated in the performance of the Gjeilo piece in whole school chapel at the end of the morning. So thrilling for us to join up with such a fine choir, and although I say so myself, I thought we sounded fantastic!

Looking back, I’m not sure I planned a week like this – several of these events were rescheduled, so it is largely coincidence that they all came together in such a short space of time. But it has made me reflect on how important it is to connect our pupils up with the outside world. We can work hard with them in choirs in school, but it is seeing the likes of Dominic and Francis in action, and aspiring one day to be in NYCGB, a university choir or a local chamber choir, which will really fire them up for the future.

Singing with the homeless

Back in April I was asked whether I might be prepared to form a choir to sing at the Genesis Trust‘s 21st birthday celebration, which takes place this coming Thursday at The Forum in Bath. The Genesis Trust works with the homeless and needy in Bath, and is an amazing set-up; so of course, I said yes!

After all, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to take a little something of what I have learned at Monkton and put it into practice in the wider community. There is no doubting the transformational nature of The choir who can’t sing, and I was genuinely excited at the prospect of sharing that a little further abroad. The reality was rather different….

I think there were about 16, maybe 20 people at the first rehearsal. A mixture of clients – people who have had their fair share of struggles in life, and volunteers, big-hearted people who give freely to the former group, whether by helping out with the soup run, life skills, or one of the many other activities which the Genesis Trust runs each week.


Photographer: Artur Lesniak/

The first rehearsal was, I think it’s fair to say, a steep learning curve for all concerned! The vast majority had never been in a choir before, so the very concept of a rehearsal was new to them. They talked, they sang when I was trying to demonstrate something, and they continued singing even when I gestured for them to stop. And the concept of unison singing was lost of them, with any number of them clearly being woefully inexperienced singers. It felt a little like the blind leading the blind, or perhaps the blind leading the deaf….

It’s difficult to know quite what to say when you’re trying to shape a vowel, and meanwhile someone wants to open a theological debate on the difference between a ‘wretch’ and a ‘soul’! Then again, there are people in this choir who find themselves in a place where life is really tough, but who in this hour on a Wednesday afternoon find a release that I can’t begin to comprehend. Music is a real leveller, and here I have seen people who, despite battling with life, are getting alongside others perhaps more fortunate than themselves and are inspiring them to achieve things which they didn’t think they could manage.

It has been humbling to see these people put their trust in me as the weeks have gone by, but even more wonderful to see them put their trust in each other. Several weeks in, I asked the choir whether they were concentrating purely on what they were doing, or whether they had a little spare capacity to listen to the person next to them; on acknowledgement of the latter, I pointed out that this surely meant that someone else was listening to them! I’ve written about it elsewhere, but there is something about the shared vulnerability of singing together which is difficult to compare to anything else, and we have found this in the Genesis Choir. Lots of it.

Last week we sang Amazing Grace together, and one choir member stood with her eyes closed as she sang. I found it extraordinarily moving. She is someone who doesn’t make eye contact easily, and yet here she was, eyes shut, and her whole face so animated, so clearly expressive. Life is tough – but here she inspires those around her.

Thursday is going to be rather daunting for us all. I’ve reminded the choir that the process is much more important that the outcome, but I think it’s still going to be potentially quite overwhelming for them. Please pray for us! In the meantime, I keep asking myself whether I will have fulfilled my obligation by putting forward a choir for this celebration, or whether the Genesis Choir should continue to meet after Thursday. Trouble is, these people – each one of them, regardless of their ability to sing or not – have got under my skin.

Concert Posters

Over the past couple of years we have amassed a wonderful selection of posters for the numerous music events which we put on. Thanks Caroline!
[Click on an individual poster to enlarge]

Genesis choir

A few weeks ago I was approached by The Genesis Trust with an interesting proposal: would I like to form a new choir? Yes please!

The Genesis Trust is an amazing charity based in Bath which strives to “hold up hope for people until they are strong enough to hold it for themselves.” Currently they are involved in 10 different projects, all of which meet the homeless at their point of need, including The Bath Foodbank, the Furniture Project and the Lifeline Centre.

In 2013 The Genesis Trust was Monkton’s chosen charity. The year before that our charity was Neema Crafts in Tanzania. This is a charity which not only gives opportunities for people with disabilities, but also aims to change negative attitudes towards them. Or put another way, it aims to give them back their dignity.

gtThe benefits of singing in a choir are well documented. In the case of Monkton’s Choir who can’t sing my hope is that both the boys themselves, and those who hear them, accept that anyone can sing. I think it’s a strong message. My long-dreamed-of day when the whole school comes to Chapel and sings has arrived, and last Saturday the school sang Be thou my vision and In Christ alone with extraordinary energy. The choir has been part of changing the whole school attitude towards singing, and I believe that Monkton is much healthier for it.

So what about a vision for the Genesis Choir? [working title] Well, it’s going to be the same as for Neema Crafts – it’s about giving people dignity. I guess in life you can find yourself with very little, but one of things which nobody can take away is your voice. In this respect a choir is a real leveller, and the guy with the wonderful tenor voice is king, whoever he is!

Should be an interesting time ahead as we plan our approach. Watch this space!


We have an audition … for Gareth!

Several weeks ago I stumbled across a Twitter post from Gareth Malone, inviting choirs to apply for his new series. Nothing to lose I thought, so I filled in an application form – for the Choir who can’t sing. And guess what?  Following a 30 minute telephone interview last week, we have been selected for audition!

As with many similar documentary-type series, they are undoubtedly interested in our back story, and I suspect that our choir is pretty unique in this regard. Bottom line though, they are looking for choirs who can give a stunning, top quality performance, so now that we’re in, that has to be our primary focus. It is going to be a very steep learning curve.


In a school context, the choir has to be accessible: put bluntly, if we sing anything which is too challenging, boys are not going to feel able to join. I really am most insistent that anyone can join, however bad they think they are at singing. We sing in unison with accompaniment – it’s that simple.

So one of the things which is really exciting about this audition is that we are no longer in a school context, and therefore we are no longer tied down by the accessibility  issue. In terms of the competition, there is no doubt at all that we have plenty of scope for development as a choir, but even so, the initial bar for the audition is set very high.

  • We will be given a song selection just a week before the audition.
    I like this. It’s a great leveller for all choirs, but for such inexperienced singers we’re going to find it particularly tough. Not made any easier by the fact that we have a leave weekend on the Saturday and Sunday of that week, so rehearsal time will be very limited.
  • The audition is a cappella!
    No, I’m not joking. We can have a guitar I think, but certainly no keyboard. So it’s going to be quite a challenge to decide whether we try to sing in harmony, or whether we keep it very simple. Again, inexperience is against us.

What I am determined to do, regardless of anything else, is to take this seriously. And by seriously I mean having a fabulous time both rehearsing and performing, with all of our characteristic energy and enthusiasm!. People need to know that singing is something which everyone can enjoy. There will be some truly amazing choirs in this competition, and with no disrespect to the boys, I don’t suspect for a moment that we will get any further than the audition. But we’re going to make the very most of the opportunity 🙂



Band Night

We certainly have a diverse range of musical opportunities for our students at Monkton. At the same time as preparing for our production of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas this term, we are also gearing up for our eagerly awaiting Band Night on 5th March.

Here’s a video collage of last year’s event, which features a song by Harry (then in year 10). We had nine bands in total, ranging from a year 8 girl band to a couple of sixth form bands who had also written their own material. Plus a few staff too!

Dido & Aeneas

I’ve heard that one of my predecessors, Harold Jones, used to put on operas during his time as Director of Music at Monkton. Was I dreaming or did I hear Boris Godunov mentioned? Surely not?!

Either way, it’s a long time since Monkton produced a opera, and so we are very excited to be staging Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas this February. It’s going to be in an unusual venue too – St Michael’s Church in Monkton Combe, which will add further dramatic potential to our production.

Tickets are now available via our online booking form here.



House Music Festival, 2014

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.

farm ELO

Saturday’s winners, Farm House, singing ELO’s Mr Blue Sky

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.

Chamber Choir CD

I am delighted to announce that our Chamber Choir CD is now on sale. Recorded live in the Bowerman Hall on 8th May.

As one parent wrote to me after the concert:
Many, many thanks for such a wonderful concert this evening. I’ve been to a fair few concerts over the years and this one ranks as one of the very best. The quality was superb and the range of pieces was great too. I could have listened for a lot longer.
The CDs are just £3 although of course you can give more as all profits will go to our school charity, The Genesis Trust; please email me to reserve a copy Huge thanks to Ben Thompson on doing a splendid job of recording and producing it!

cd cover