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Bands, Choirs and Orchestras
Monmouth School for Boys Chapel Choir
A choir of some sort (what were often known as ‘Singing Children’) must have been maintained by the School since the early seventeenth century. Since at least the middle of the nineteenth century it has been known as the Chapel Choir and has provided the music for choral services in the chapel and some in the Parish Church, and continues to do so, as well as singing outside Monmouth.
In recent years the choir has performed in St. Paul’s Cathedral (twice), Westminster Cathedral (twice), Bristol, Chichester, Lichfield, St. Davids (twice) and Llandaff Cathedrals and St. George’s Windsor (twice). There is a trebles’ rehearsal, and lower-voices rehearsal and a full rehearsal each week and the repertoire extends from renaissance polyphony to twentieth-century works. New works are commissioned for the choir from time-to-time, the latest by Alan Bullard, published by OUP. The choir is directed by the Director of Music, David Lawson, a former cathedral organ scholar and Gentleman of her Majesty’s Chapels Royal. Many boys will come into the Chapel Choir from the Grange Choir, spending their entire career at Monmouth School singing, leaving with a decade of singing experience.
The choir is one of the few activities in the School which encompasses all year groups and provides opportunities for inter-age socializing. In 2013 the choir toured Spain and Morocco, performing in the Mezquite of Cordoba, St. Andrew’s Tangier, San Bartolomé in Asila and Nuestra Señora de las Angustias in Granada. In Summer 2015 the choir, with a string orchestra, made a concert tour of the French Riviera, performing at the Avignon Festival, the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Carcassonne and Toulouse. In Summer 2017 the choir made a concert tour, again with a string orchestra, to Rome and Perugia. They were immensely privileged to sing for Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, give a concert in St. Paul’s-within-the-Walls (also in Rome), sing in the Templar Church of Perugia and for Mass in Perugia Cathedral. In Summer 2020 the choir, again with a string orchestra, will make a concert tour of Berlin and Dresden, staying in Colditz Castle.
Junior Winds is the band in which most boys play if they learn a brass, woodwind or percussion instrument and have not yet been invited into Symphonic Winds. Aside from being an opportunity for boys to make music together under the leadership of Miss Fowler, the band fulfils a number of purposes. At one level it is another occasion in the week when the player has contact with his instrument. For many it is a chance to play some good, enjoyable music, and reinforce what is happening in individual lessons by applying it in an ensemble environment. There are many enjoyable social aspects too, and most boys enjoy the concert performances and tours which membership brings with it.
Chamber Music takes place weekly in the Music School, in a number of different forms. The aim of the Chamber Music programme is to provide an opportunity for the more advanced players, in all age-ranges, to play together and to receive, from an instrumental specialist, expert tuition in their field.
Currently, there are chamber music groups operating for wind players (the three Blake Ensembles and Saxophony run by Mrs. Dollins), string players (the String Quartet and Trio operated by Mrs. Greenwood and Mrs. Milledge), percussion players (Percussion Ensemble run by Mr. Hathaway) and brass players (Brass Ten-Piece, run by Major Burton).
The Bach Orchestra is our training orchestra for the junior string players. Under the direction of Mrs Greenwood and with the coaching of Mrs. Underwood, the orchestra provides the boys with an opportunity to learn to play together as an ensemble and to explore some enjoyable repertoire. Music from contemporary film scores, Baroque concerti grossi and standard string orchestra favourites have all featured in recent programmes. The Bach Orchestra (‘bach’ is Welsh for ‘small’!) works towards a public performance at least once a term and has represented the School in concerts in other venues including the Wales Millennium Centre, several Prep Schools and in concert tours abroad. With experience and increased technical proficiency the boys are eventually invited to Senior Strings (run jointly with Monmouth School for Girls).
The orchestra rehearses on Monday lunchtimes.
The School is very fortunate to be able to support two dedicated string orchestras. Having progressed up through the ranks of the Bach Orchestra, boys will be invited to join the Senior String Orchestra run in conjunction with Monmouth School for Girls. The cream of our senior string players, from Grade 5 and above, meets weekly at MG to rehearse advanced repertoire under the direction of specialist string coaches, all directed by Ruth Friend who had a twenty-year career as a professional violinist with Welsh National Opera. In addition to the traditional string repertoire members of the orchestra occasionally have the opportunity to perform as soloists in concerto performances; a recent example being ‘Autumn’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. For the season 2019-20 the orchestra is 35-strong, with no fewer than six double bass players.
The orchestra gives regular public performances and this year is working towards the Charity Concert in the Blake Theatre on 28th November, and the Choral and Orchestral Concert at Wyastone on 17th March 2020.
Haberdashers' Monmouth Schools' Symphony Orchestra
This year HMSSO (Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools Symphony Orchestra) will be directed by Mr. Harris, Director of Music at Monmouth School for Girls. The repertoire is ambitious: Marquez’ Danzón No 2, Malcom Arnold’s Four Scottish Dances and Hanz Zimmer’s Theme from Batman. The brilliant team of orchestral tutors will give small-group tuition before the 70-piece orchestra comes together for a full-read through. The first workshop is Sunday 17th November at MG and the performance is Tuesday 11th February 2020 in the Blake Theatre at Monmouth Boys.
A bit about the HMSSO
This is a joint project which provides the musically talented and gifted pupils of both schools the opportunity to study and perform challenging orchestral repertoire. The pupils meet for three intensive workshops; one in the Michaelmas term and two in the Lent term, culminating in a public performance late in March. The workshops are staffed by instrumental specialists and teachers from both schools as well as professional performers who are currently appearing with national orchestras and ensembles.
Orchestral works that have been performed include: Dance Overture by William Mathias; Extracts from Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky; Olympic Overture by John Williams; An American in Paris by George Gershwin; the Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius; Gayaneh Suite by Khachaturian; Superman March by John Williams; Fingal’s Cave by Mendelssohn; Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni; and Vocalise by Rachmaninoff.
HMSSO at St. David’s Hall 2017’:
Haberdashers' Monmouth Schools Symphonic Winds
Symphonic Winds, conducted by Sarah Fowler, is made up jointly of pupils from Monmouth School for Boys, and Girls. The band tackles a wide repertoire, ranging from twentieth-century band music by Holst to transcriptions of big band and rock favourites by Glenn Miller and Queen, to film favourites by John Williams and Ennio Morricone.
The band rehearses on Mondays after lessons at Monmouth School and is fed by junior bands at both Monmouth School and HMSG. In the last few years they have undertaken a number of off-site concerts, competitions and tours, including performances at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow, the Royal Academy of Music in London, concerts locally in Coleford and Monmouth, and tours to Paris, Barcelona, Prague and Italy. In 2014 the band opened the School’s 400th Anniversary Concert at the Wales Millennium Centre with Philip Sparkes’ A Monmouth Overture, written especially for them in 2007.
Monmouth School Jazz Orchestra
Mojo rehearses weekly after school on Thursdays and regularly perform at events and concerts throughout the school year. The band is directed by Mr. Alun Hathaway and provides for pupils more interested in jazz improvisation and big band music. Mojo’s repertoire includes standards from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Glen Miller among others, as well as modern compositions and arrangements.
Future plans include performances in the Wyastone Concert Hall and Wales Millennium Centre, Monmouth Boys’ Open Morning on 5th October, the Lord Mayor’s Show in London on Saturday 9th November and the Charity Concert in the Blake Theatre on 28th November.
Monmouth School Choral Society is a non-auditioned choir with singers from all age-groups in the School. Its main focus is to prepare a concert-work for performance in the Lent Term; in recent years the choir has performed Mozart’s Requiem, Rutter’s Gloria, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Poulenc’s Gloria and Mozart’s Great C Minor Mass. For these performances the Choral Society teams up with choirs from Monmouth Girls as well as the MB Chapel Choir. The Choral Society also spends the second-half of the Michaelmas Term preparing music to sing at the Carol Services each year, giving us a break from preparing the big concert work. The Choral Society is directed by Mr. Lawson and rehearses after lessons on Tuesdays in the Michaelmas and Lent Terms, and parents and friends are welcome to join their sons in the choir if they wish.
This year we are working on Carmina Burana, to be performed at Wyastone on 17th March 2020, alongside Year 7 from both Monmouth Boys and Monmouth Girls, MG Chamber and Concert Choirs, and MB Chapel Choir.
Performing at Wales Millennium Centre during the schools’ 400th anniversary celebrations in 2014
Wyastone Concert March 2015