Thursday, October 29, 2015

Music Department Review of 2014-15

From the Vaughan School Magazine here is the review of 2014-15.

Music at the Vaughan, 2014-15

This has been a remarkable year for the Vaughan and indeed for the School’s musicians. From the Centenary Mass in September, to the Centenary Celebration at the Royal Albert Hall and then on beyond into School year, the Music Department has risen to the challenge of the Centenary with great energy and enthusiasm, enhancing many public occasions with splendid music-making. I hope that the musicians will feel proud of their efforts over the past twelve months – they certainly deserve to give themselves a pat on the back! It has been quite a year!

The Vaughan has long been known for its music-making but it appears that this was not always the case. For its first twenty or so years the Vaughan appears to have had very little music-making going on other than congregational singing although the boys were certainly familiar with sadly now largely forgotten Catholic chants. In 1935 a Music Society was founded by the older pupils and in 1937 there was reference in the Vaughan magazine to “the new choir”. Under the regrettably short headship of Monsignor Butcher (1948-1952) music, along with the other arts, seems to have begun to flourish. The singing at Mass and Benediction was said to be much improved and when distinguished violist Bernard Shore visited the School in 1950 to give a recital he commented on the “beautiful tone” of the School Choir and suggested that they should soon tackle music in four parts.

From these cautious beginnings has grown the musical tradition that continues to flourish to this day. In our now ten years old but still magnificent facilities the Department is bigger and busier than ever. More than four hundred instrumental lessons have been given each and every week by our ever-expanding team of instrumental teachers and around 300 pupils have taken regular part in extra-curricular music. Class music continue to be lessons that the vast majority of pupils seem to very much enjoy and there is some wonderful work taking place in the classroom at all levels in the School.

Recognition of the musical traditions of the Vaughan came from an unexpected avenue this year when Westminster Abbey asked if we would like to house on long-term loan a Chamber Organ that had formerly been kept in the Henry VII Chapel at the Abbey. The organ was built by John Snetzler in around 1760. We were of course delighted to accept and are very grateful to the Dean of the Abbey, the Very Reverend John Hall, and the Organist of the Abbey, James O'Donnell (who is a patron of the Vaughan's Schola) for making the offer. They were keen that the instrument be used liturgically and in its new home in the chapel the instrument has been played during the School's Benediction service that ends each week.

Once again the music staff at the Vaughan has remained virtually unchanged. We were all sorry when flute teacher Amanda Cousin left at Christmas for a new full-time position. Her place on the staff has been taken by David Cuthbert. We have also welcomed Josh Cooter who has taught the trombone at VCYM and former pupil Jerome Knox who has taught singing as the Department continues to grow. The Music Staff now numbers more than forty teachers. Each and every one works very hard contributing their own unique skills and experiences to the musical life of the School and I gratefully acknowledge their wonderful work.

I would also like to thank the pupils who have contributed so much over the past twelve months. As always, their enthusiasm and commitment has been outstanding, indeed, this year’s Upper Sixth has always been markedly positive and loyal to the music-making.  In particular I thank the following for their remarkable contribution to the musical life of the School: Philippe Barbaroussis, William Lim Kee Chang, Malcolm D’Souza, Aeron Dela Cruz, Tom Coyne, Thomas Whear, Patrick Huynh, Andre Weston Peters and William Cunningham, Thomas King and Jack Harnett. I wish them all the very best for the future.

Finally I would like to thank the parents of the School for all the invaluable support during the year that has just drawn to a close. Time and time again the Vaughan parents have proved that their support for the School’s music-making is total, through attending our many events in such numbers, through ferrying the pupils to and fro, through supporting the teachers, unfailingly replying positively to requests from the Department and in so many other ways. We are very lucky indeed to have such kind and generous parents at the School. Thank you for all that you do to support our work.

There are a number of exciting ventures planned for next year. Boys will once again appear in operas with the Royal Opera and English National Opera and in December boys will sing at the Royal Albert Hall for a showing of the Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland. We are to perform Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and JS Bach’s St John Passion amongst many other works.  I hope that you will be able to join us at these and other occasions next year – you can follow the Music Department on Twitter (@cvmsmusic) if you would like to be kept up to date.
Concerts 2014-15

The start of the academic year 2014-15 was dominated of course by the preparations for the Centenary events. The Mass to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the School in 1914 was held on Friday 19 September at Westminster Cathedral.  The principal celebrant was Cardinal Vincent Nichols. He was joined by around thirty fellow priests, many of whom have links to the Vaughan. The Schola and Senior Brass lead the School's worship in considerable style that day. The Schola was augmented by twenty former members of the choir who sang the baritone choir part in Widor's Messe à deux chœurs et deux orgues. It was wonderful to have these former members back with us - some left recently, others as long ago as 12 years. The other very welcome guest with the Schola in the apse of the Cathedral that day was the world renowned composer Sir James MacMillan, who had composed a piece for the occasion. It was a great honour, and quite nerve-wracking, to give the first performance of his motet, Emitte Lucem Tuam in his presence - and what a piece he has written for us too. The boys sang very well and many people commented afterwards on what a dramatic and fitting addition the work was to the liturgy. MacMillan was very pleased with the performance and complimented the choir warmly, including talking about the Schola and the performance later that afternoon when he was interviewed on BBC Radio.
The Centenary Celebration which followed in October offered a unique opportunity and a unique challenge. Unlike, for example, a musical, there was no script, score or indeed any real precedent to copy. An evening's entertainment had to be constructed from scratch. And on such a huge stage as well – there are five thousand seats in the Royal Albert Hall!

From the very beginning it was intended that the evening would be structured around a series of short documentary-style films shown on a giant screen - perhaps inspired by an occasion a few years ago when the Schola sang at the world premiere of the 3D version of Titanic! 

Two Vaughan parents who work in the film and TV business, Adam Scoffield and Flavia Ritner, amazingly agreed to help make these films – amazing as they must have known the amount of time it would take - and around 18 months before the evening we began to film, starting by interviewing on camera many Old Vaughanians and former staff. Scripts were written and pupils were slowly but surely filmed speaking the narration. More than 100 pupils took part in the filming process.

Filming is an incredibly time-consuming activity; for example, one day was spent at Westminster Cathedral - from which there was perhaps 20 seconds of footage shown on the evening. Another entire day was spent with two Old Vaughanians, John Sankey and Terry Denett (who very bravely also appeared on the stage on the evening) filming in the former grounds of Beaumont College where the Vaughan had been evacuated to during the war, again just for a short passage of footage on the evening. Many more hours were spent researching the Vaughan’s history and collecting and creating graphics and photographs to add life and colour to the films.

Slowly but surely the films took shape. A film about sport was very kindly made by another parent, Matt Lorenzo, with an Old Vaughanian presenting from his sports anchor desk in Doha! Using the history of the School written by Peter Brennan in 1995 we also created an illustrated brochure of the School's history and brought the story up to date. Hannah Staff worked very closely on this, alongside the Fetherstonhaugh Publishing company.

Meanwhile, numerous ideas were considered for the musical items and eventually the programme began to come together. To make it into the evening the music had to be short, reasonably accessible, and not too challenging to play - the difficulties of performing in the Royal Albert Hall were sufficient without playing hugely difficult music! That said, the fanfare composed especially for the occasion (and which brilliantly used the school and the Albert Hall's resources) was quite tricky! The composer of that piece was Dr Philip Wilby - Miss Wilby's father.
There were numerous technical aspects involved in making the event run smoothly. The films were projected on to the 30 foot screen from one of the audience boxes whilst the men who controlled them were hidden in the basement of the Albert Hall. They started each film on a cue from the show caller, John, who sat next to the lighting and sound people on the desks at the back of the arena, giving instructions from the script. Adam Scoffield was at the hall during the day with the computer equipment needed to edit the films if it proved necessary. Flavia Ritner was also present for the rehearsals to time everything (it would have been disastrous to discover that we were over time) and also to add last minute tweaks to the script. The script for our brilliant host, Stephen Cole, was run to an autocue controlled by a chap called Danny who sat in the ‘bull run’ as they call it – just be the entrance to the stage.

There were 200 microphones on the stage, all running to the desk at the rear of the arena from where they were mixed by the Albert Hall’s in-house sound team – the difficult acoustic of the Albert Hall makes unique challenges, especially when you were mixing live music, live voices plus video sound. Lighting was also controlled by the in-house lighting team of the Albert Hall, following the script – they were left to light the show as they felt best, according to the suggestions given. The school crest was shone onto the famous ceiling mushrooms (installed to improve the hall’s tricky acoustic and of course referred to by John Lennon in ‘A Day in the life’) using a device called a ‘Gobo’ – these had to be made specially. 

Also contained in the ceiling of course were the 1500 balloons, each with the school crest printed on them, that were released at the end of the final hymn! Although I spoke to the balloon man a great deal on the phone we did not meet on the day as he worked away in the dome of the hall, inflating the balloons only once in the ceiling. He would also have been last to leave as he faced the challenge of lowering a device down from the ceiling to blow down the several hundred balloons that would be caught in the acoustic mushrooms and never reach the boys gathered below!

All these various technical aspects were controlled by the stage manager, a wonderful lady called Maz Bryden who came to work with me for the final couple of weeks of the preparations. She was simply invaluable in controlling the many complicated aspects of the show and allowing the music staff on the day to concentrate on the music. The Albert Hall provided a team of around 20 technicians who ensured that the stage was set as we wished and looked after the challenges of the day, all led by Mo Crowe who was our show manager at the Royal Albert Hall. 

All of this help meant that the day itself was actually easier than the average large concert we put on. It was made easier still by having the help and support of the entire teaching staff, all of whom at some point were involved in chaperoning the performers and then bringing the rest of the School into the Hall at the appropriate time. Seating and ticketing in the Albert Hall is very complicated as more than a thousand seats are owned by the ‘members’, individuals (such as Her Majesty the Queen!) and large companies who have bought boxes and stalls seats and have the right to attend whatever they wish. They were not all terribly quick at returning their seats to us and so it became difficult to know how many could sit where. It was a major relief to see the whole School safely sat in the Hall waiting for the show to start! Particular mention should be made of Mr Kehoe who looked after the arrangements on the evening for the School. And credit for the ticketing of the event belongs to Hannah Staff who worked closely with me to ensure that everyone ended up sat in the right place.

The involvement of so many individuals was the reason for the show’s smooth and error free success and it is good to have the chance to thank them now even if time did not permit them all to be thanked on the evening. Particular mention must be made of Flavia Ritner and Adam Scoffield who gave many, many hours of their time to produce the films that made the evening what it was. They were the rather unsung heroes of that occasion and I am glad to have chance to record now my deepest gratitude to them here.

I would also like to thank all the performers of course. It was wonderful to have with us so many Old Vaughanians for the evening. Many played in the orchestra or sang in the choir. Perhaps most impressive were the greatly accomplished, confident performances given by the Old Vaughanians in the musicals medley. And comedian Dominic Holland delighted the audience with his very funny routine about a maths test from his school days! 

It is perhaps, given the occasion, worth listing for the record the music that was performed that evening, as there was no concert programme as such:

Zadok the Priest, Handel (extract)
Spitfire Prelude, Walton
The Lord Bless You and Keep You, Rutter
Superstition, Stevie Wonder
Hymn to the Fallen, John Williams
Jerusalem, Parry
Panis Angelicus, Franck and Ave Maria, Schubert (with The Priests)

Hymn at Heaven’s Gate, Philip Wilby (world premiere)
How About You, Burton Lane (soloist James Townsend)
Musicals Medley:
            Anything Goes, Anything Goes
            Maria, West Side Story
            Pick a Pocket, Oliver!
            Pretty Women, Sweeney Todd
            By the Sea, Sweeney Todd
            Brush Up Your Shakespeare, Kiss Me Kate
I Was Glad, Parry
He Who Would Valiant Be, arranged Wilby

If you missed it then it’s available on DVD. And if you were there, then thanks for coming! And many thanks for the countless messages that were sent in the days following. It is lovely to know that the work of all the people mentioned above was so well received and so greatly appreciated.

Following on from what was clearly the biggest occasion in the history of the Vaughan’s music-making was always going to feel rather odd but the year continued as always and there have been numerous musical events on all different kinds of scale. In the Michaelmas Term we held our annual series of Early Evening Recitals for the pianists, string players, woodwind, brass and organists of the School. These evenings saw some very fine performances. The Lent Term saw the annual Music Competition. Each Heat was adjudicated by an accomplished musician who offered the pupils advice on how best to improve and also chose the winners. More than 100 pupils took part in this year's competition. At the Grand Final, held in March, we witnessed a very high standard of performance throughout. The adjudicator, Ralph Allwood appointed the winners as follows:

Lower School Musician of the Year                       Thomas Fetherstonhaugh
Upper School Musician of the Year                       Luke Warren

The Lower School Chamber Music Competition, adjudicated by Tansy Castledine from St George’s School, Weybridge, saw a record number of participants and groups – 22 ensembles in total. The winners were ‘Second Form Jazz’ and the outstanding individual prize of the evening deservedly went to Xavier Nadal. The competitions and recitals are amongst the many aspects of the Music Department arranged by the  Miss Wilby, the Assistant Director of Music. Sarah is a delightful colleague, incredibly supportive of the boys and her fellow staff, wonderfully unassuming and modest yet greatly talented and held in great affection by us all.

The Big Band featured strongly at the Royal Albert Hall and then set about preparing the annual Big Band Evening, which this year took the form of a tribute to Frank Sinatra. We are lucky to have a few outstanding vocalists at the moment and they were very much to the fore on this evening, with five pupils singing songs across the evening, to a large and appreciative audience. The Band also were out in force at the Centenary Ball in June.

The St Cecilia Concert in November saw a capacity audience at St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith with around two hundred pupils taking part in a very enjoyable concert. School Choir sang extracts from the Centenary Celebration – I Was Glad and the Hymn to the Fallen whilst the orchestra performed the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue by Walton. There was splendid music-making from the Concert Band, Second Orchestra and Senior Strings too in what was a lovely occasion, marked by a real sense of the confidence in the performing, no doubt inspired by the recent Centenary Celebration

The strong performances from the orchestras and bands continued through the course of the year, displaying the wide variety of instrumental playing at the Vaughan. More than 150 pupils took part in the Spring Instrumental Concert, held at St Paul’s School, Barnes, early in March. The programme included much challenging repertoire, made possible by the outstanding quality of some of the most senior players currently. This is especially true in the strings department where the playing over the last couple of years has been stronger than ever before. This year’s Spring Concert saw the Senior Strings perform Vaughan Williams’ Fantasy on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. To even consider performing music this complex is a sign of the level at which the boys and girls perform – and that they could play it with such quality of tone and ensemble is remarkable, and a real testament to the quality of the string instruction at the School, led of course by Mr Manoras. The Concert Band, directed by Sarah Wilby, were also particularly strong on this evening, performing Fiesta by Philip Sparke. The concert closed with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. This was a concert of seriously ambitious music!

This was the second time the senior orchestral players had performed however in just a few weeks as in February we had gathered on a Sunday morning to begin the annual collaboration with the Vaughan’s professional orchestral partners, Southbank Sinfonia. Each year we try to have a different angle on the collaboration and this year was no different as, under the expert guidance of conductor David Corkhill, the combined forces tackled Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Yes, Mahler! And what a performance it was, given at Southbank Sinfonia’s home, St John’s, Waterloo. This is extraordinary music, full of colour, energy, great difficulty, great tenderness, many extremes of emotion. For most of the Vaughanians this was no doubt their first experience of Mahler and it was wonderful to see this unique musical world being encountered for the first time.  We are very fortunate indeed to have the link with Southbank Sinfonia – they are increasingly involved in the work of the School and their support for the Department is greatly encouraging.

Another most memorable occasion in this year’s musical calendar came at the end of the Lent Term when School Choir gathered at St James’s, Spanish Place to perform what was billed as the Centenary Concert (the event at the Albert Hall having been a ‘Celebration’!).  To mark the School’s Centenary musically there was only one work that was truly suitable, Elgar’s remarkable The Dream of Gerontius.  And so, in the final week of term the School Choir, joined by the Cantus Ensemble and the Belgravia Chamber Orchestra, performed this work, one of the very greatest of all oratorios, with soloists Old Vaughanian Peter Davoren, Diana Moore and David Soar. This was a splendid performance, full of energy and passion, remarkable given that it came at the end of such a long and demanding term. Elgar’s choral writing makes many demands on the singers and the boys proved more than equal to the challenges of the Demons Chorus and the tour de force that is Elgar’s setting of Praise to the Holiest. The Schola did a fine job as the semi-chorus. The Blessed John Henry Newman’s words are always powerful of course but in the setting of St James’s, Spanish Place the work made a tremendous emotional impact on many present. Congratulations to all involved in what was a very memorable evening.


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