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, Salisbury, Chester, 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 twenty-first-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 Prep 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 the Vatican, 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 2023 the choir, again with a string orchestra, made a concert tour of Austria and Bavaria. They performed in Salzburg Cathedral and Klostermondsee, Erding, Munich and were given the rare opportunity to sing in the Sängerhalle of Schloss Neuschwanstein.
Big Time Band
Big Time Band 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 Mr Russell and Mrs Gibbons, 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 trips 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 (in 2023-24), there is a Brass Band (one-per-part), Guitar Ensemble run by Mr Sherwood, Percussion Ensemble run by Mr. Hathaway and String Trio. In the recent past a small string orchestra has accompanied several of our choir tours. There is also a Close Harmony (Barbershop) group, The Monnowtones, which enables older students to hone their sight-singing and ensemble techniques.
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 in the Performing Arts Centre 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 and the Mozart G Major Concerto.
The orchestra gives regular public performances and this year is working towards the Charity Concert in the Blake Theatre on 22nd November, and the Choral and Orchestral Concert at the Wyastone Concert Hall on 5th March 2024.
Haberdashers' Monmouth Schools' Symphony Orchestra
This year HMSSO (Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools Symphony Orchestra) will be directed by Mr. Derek Harris, Director of Music at Monmouth Girls. The repertoire as always is ambitious: Carmen Suite No. 1 (Bizet), Symphonic Mambo (Miyagawa) and Superman Returns (Williams). These will be performed alongside various other works (including Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs) in the Choral and Orchestral Concert on 5th March 2024. The first orchestral workshop this year is Sunday 19th November.
A bit about the HMSSO
HMSSO 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 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. This allows us to provide some high-level, small-group coaching.
Orchestral works performed in the last ten years 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; Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn (conducted by Dame Jane Glover); Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni; Murder on the Orient Express by Richard Rodney Bennet, Night on a Bare Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky, Spartacus Suite by Aram Khachaturian, L’Oiseau de Feu by Stravinsky, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Morricone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the THX Surround-Sound test Theme and Calling All Workers by Eric Coates.
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 with interest 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.
Recent venues include the Wyastone Concert Hall, the Lord Mayor’s Show in London and the Wales Millennium Centre. They will next perform Open Morning on 30th September and the Charity Concert in the Blake Theatre on 15th November 2023.
Close Harmony Singing
In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, when rehearsals could take place but had to be socially-distanced, a group of boys decided they would like to sing some close-harmony music. It’s excellent training for singers as well as being very good aural training. It has flourished ever since under various names, and they have performed in masks (at The Masked Singer), in the centre of Salzburg and Munich, the Leavers’ Service, Prize-giving and this term will perform at the St. David’s VOCO Hotel.
Guitar Group and the Fuzz
Guitar Group meets weekly and is for acoustic guitar players to work with Mr Sherwood on some multi-part pieces. A spin-off has been The Fuzz, a pupil-led Rock/Jazz combo which triumphed in the year’s Monmouth’s Got Talent. Every so often a new pupil-led Rock/Swing group emerges and we do all we can to encourage them and provide equipment.