Music, one of the most important facets of society, is in a very real sense a core subject, affecting nearly everyone’s lives daily, either passively or though the deep appreciation of a universal language and art-form that goes beyond words. It exposes its practitioners and listeners to the numinous. Understanding the subject, particularly through mastery of an instrument, offers a lifetime of aesthetic, artistic and social pleasure: and, if that were not enough, it sharpens the intellect, promotes perseverance, self-confidence, concentration, organization, teamwork, craftsmanship, and precision, as well as broadening an awareness of historical and cultural concepts to a degree that is almost unparalleled.
At St John’s, the aims of the Music School are:
The Director of Music and his Assistant are both academics as well as practical professionals, and are supported by twelve highly experienced visiting teachers. Boys receive weekly class music lessons throughout the School, taught skills encompassing the broad categories of listening, performing, composing and appraising. There is plenty of practical music-making, composition and improvisation, aural training, historical appreciation, and analytical listening, while sequencing and music technology also feature. In addition to shorter topics, the boys study an opera and a musical in some depth, and explore a variety of cross-curricular disciplines, including music as related to astronomy, literature, art, or synaesthesia.
Instrumental tuition is offered on most instruments, including harp and orchestral percussion, as well as piano, organ, voice, and bagpipes. The School hosts ABRSM examinations every term, and many boys take the opportunity to gain a recognised and respected qualification, with several reaching Distinction at Grade 8 in the last few years.
The standard of choral singing is also very high: the auditioned Chapel Choir, as well the Schola Cantorum (chamber choir) sing cathedral repertoire at regular Masses, both within the school and outside, particularly close relations being maintained with Campion Hall, Oxford, and Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight. Their carol services are immensely popular, and often showcase unusual repertoire.
Junior choirs and a variety of chamber ensembles meet regularly, including the senior and junior string quartets, cello ensemble, piano trio, and the orchestral percussion ensemble, together with a number of bands whose general direction is largely determined by the boys themselves. Formal and informal concerts for all levels are held regularly and frequently each term, and a yearly Animal (House) Music competition challenges performers across the year groups. Further inspiration is provided through a series of recitals by distinguished visiting musicians. In addition to theory club, a regular programme at both junior and senior level prepares more advanced boys for scholarships and awards at senior schools, of which a gratifying number have been won at the most prestigious establishments, including the top scholarships to Eton and Wellington.