A closer look into King’s Rochester school’s music scene

A closer look into King’s Rochester school’s music scene

Students at King’s Rochester are given exceptional opportunities to learn the potential of music, setting the scene for a lifetime of discovery and achievement. We hear about the school’s music scene from three different perspectives.

Douglas McIlwraith is Director of Music at King’s Rochester Senior School.
Music is central to life at King’s Rochester and everybody participates to a greater or lesser degree, from the nursery class right through to Sixth Form. Being the oldest Cathedral Choir school in the world, King’s educates the Cathedral Choristers aged eight to 13.

Our first aim is to broaden the musical horizons of every pupil and expose them to an eclectic mix of music which might hitherto have been completely beyond their realm of experience – ie music that is not on their iPod!  Our second aim is to encourage as many pupils as possible to be active performers of music rather than simply passive listeners.

There are over 300 music lessons per week and pupils can get involved in one of the many ensembles: Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Choir, The King’s Consort (a selective Chamber Choir), String quartets, Wind and Brass groups, Wind band and Jazz band. Some pupils prefer to take part in more informal events, such as the highly successful pupil-led open mic nights where they perform their own choice of music mixed in with some dance and comedy items. All senior school pupils sing on a daily basis in the Cathedral and can make a tremendous sound when their passions are raised by their favourite hymns!

We have a large number of music scholars who form the backbone of musical life in the school and they can be very busy, as they tend to play several instruments and participate in numerous groups and performances. This means that they make rapid progress and some pupils reach a very high standard and move on to some of the best universities and conservatoires.

All pupils are taught to sing in Years 8 and 9 and the hope is that they will feel confident in using their voice in the future. We follow the International GCSE course which allows a great breadth of music to be studied, pupils can perform and compose in any style they wish but there is also a strong traditional element which includes studying scores. This makes it the best choice for going on to study A Level, which is a rigorous course covering the development of instrumental music and music for the stage.

The best thing about teaching music at King’s is the enthusiasm of the pupils for performing; concert evenings are fun and they deal with nerves very well. My most rewarding moments, however, are when a pupil comments that they ‘love’ a particular piece of music that they have discovered at choir or orchestra. It’s very often a rather dusty, old piece of choral music which they have enjoyed learning and thus it has been brought to life for another generation.

Tabitha Reynolds joined King’s Rochester in the Senior School, aged 13, as a music scholar.
During my time at King’s I have had many wonderful experiences as a solo musician, in choirs and on stage, particularly singing challenging music in the school chamber choir, the ‘King’s Consort’ and singing solo parts in both sacred and secular works. I am currently working on the lead role in the school production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as well as putting together a short vocal recital which encompasses music from the 17th to 20th centuries. Previous school productions include the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Within the school there is a vibrant musical community, offering many different forms of ensemble. I belong to the school chamber orchestra and orchestra where I play viola, as well as the school string quartet where I play violin. King’s has provided me with the confidence I needed to achieve my goal of pursuing a singing career.

In 2010, I won the Medway Young Musicians award which has been pivotal to other opportunities – singing before an audience of 4,000 in the Rochester Castle Gardens and invitations to sing as a soloist with orchestras. Last summer I toured with the Lydian orchestra to Belgium, playing the viola and singing baroque arias as a soloist; I sang as a soloist on tour with King’s to Germany and Italy and even sang in the Vatican – followed a few weeks later by an opportunity to sing in Westminster Abbey as part of the Woodard schools’ community.

As a Peter Rodgers choral scholar at King’s, I have been able to visit the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne; participate in individual lessons with professors from the leading London conservatoires; experience master classes with Dame Felicity Lott and Sue Waters; learn Italian opera to improve my understanding of foreign languages and pronunciation, and I have gained knowledge and experience, invaluable for my recent auditions at the music colleges. Last year King’s reached the semi-finals in the BBC Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year, giving us a chance to perform on television with ‘Steal Away’, in which I sang the solo.

I also enjoy playing violin and viola. I’m currently a member of Kent County Youth Orchestra, Lydian Orchestra, The Puregold Ensemble and Rochester Symphony Orchestra which allow me to carry on my interest in group playing. Together with my friends, we have formed the Phoenix String Trio and a band, ‘Sam and the Strings’ (with Sam Hall), playing at weddings and private functions, plus having a good time while we’re performing.

King’s treats everyone as a family member and nurtures their individual talents. I was very proud to have been offered a scholarship at The Royal Academy of Music to study singing next year. I would not have achieved this without all the help and support I have received from King’s. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here and will look back fondly on the years spent at King’s Rochester with my friends and teachers.”

Sam Hall joined King’s in the Preparatory School.
“In my nine years at King’s, I’ve been able to develop many skills ranging from singing solos in Westminster Abbey on BBC Radio 2 to rowing competitively on the Olympic course  at Eton with the school’s club. I began my time at King’s at the start of the Prep School as a Cathedral Chorister. This daily exposure to the discipline of learning and performing vast amounts of very fine music was an important start to my busy lifestyle that I lead now.

In my time as a chorister I had many fantastic chances to perform outside of the Cathedral including tours to Holland, Budapest and Rome, singing in the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, and also as a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year at Westminster Abbey.

After leaving the choir a year early (due to my voice changing prematurely!), I found that keeping up with work and doing anything extracurricular was a breeze after the demanding lifestyle as a Cathedral chorister. When I moved up to the King’s Senior School, I began to develop my interest in instrumental playing and joined the school’s Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Choir, Consort, Wind Band, Jazz Band and String Quartet. Of course, this not being enough (ha!) I then joined Kent County Youth Orchestra (playing cello) and the Kent Youth Jazz Orchestra (playing saxophone and bass).

But being interested in many things other than music, I tried to do as much as I could fit in with the busy schedule that a life as a music scholar demands. These opportunities have included: directing/producing/performing shows (such as open mic nights, Alice in Wonderland, Merchant of Venice and Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), climbing mountains in Wales, creating large wacky sculptures for my art GCSE and AS/A level, flying planes with the CCF and dancing, badly, in a professional Broadway studio – to name a few!

During the school holidays I am usually attending residential music courses, either as a player or more recently as a member of the Composer’s group in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. This is a fantastic opportunity to have my compositions road-tested and performed by an amazing orchestra, and to have coaching from leading contemporary composers. Recently my compositions have been performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and The Royal Festival Hall and locally by the City of Rochester Symphony Orchestra at The Central Theatre, Chatham.

King’s has given me a wonderful start to what I hope will be a successful career in the music industry, but the most useful skill it has taught me is to take advantage of everything that is offered to you. I think that I have, I don’t think I can fit much more in…!

Both Tabby and Sam will be appearing in the King’s Rochester production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in Rochester Cathedral on 15 and 16 March at 7.30pm.

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