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Innovative and popular former Head of Music remembered

January 18th, 2021

Tributes have been paid to an innovative and popular former Head of Music at Monmouth School for Girls, who has died at the age of 81.

Colwyn Sillman (pictured) had a passion for conducting orchestras, held prestigious teaching roles in Austria and France and was a former long-standing Music Director at Monmouth Operatic Society (now Monmouth Music Theatre), of which he was honorary president.

“Colwyn was an innovator during his 12 years at Monmouth School for Girls, respected and very popular,” recalled friend, retired teacher and fellow musician, Peter Jones.

“He loved teaching and conducting, which took him to Europe, and he particularly enjoyed the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. He was a wonderful family man for whom he cared deeply. He will be sorely missed by his family and many friends.”

Born in Blaina, Colwyn joined Monmouth School for Girls in 1971, having previously taught at Llanrumney High School in Cardiff and founded the Lower Machen Music Festival.

As Head of Music, he was influential in setting up St Katherine’s House (now St Catherine’s House) as home for Music at the girls’ school.

The Sillman family moved into St Katherine’s House in the summer 1976 and the remainder of the building was converted to the Music Department, including a small concert room, a lecture room, three classrooms, seven music teaching spaces, and a library.

During his 12 years at Monmouth School for Girls, Colwyn led the girls to a notable first place at the Bath Midsummer Festival with a new work, Divertissement, by Welsh composer Mervyn Burtch.

He encouraged joint activities with other schools, including joint concert versions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers (1976) and Pirates of Penzance (1978) at Monmouth School for Boys, followed by joint full productions of The Drum Major’s Daughter (1977), La Cenerentola (1979), and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1981), all at Monmouth School for Girls.

Aside from the visits to professional operatic performances, Colwyn and Elsa Watts (then Head of English) put on Dido and Aeneas (1973) and Princess Ida (1975), both with all-female casts.
He arranged a host of choral and orchestral concerts, including Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in spring 1982, Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman (1979) and Ceremony of Carols (1980), orchestral trips to France in 1978 and 1982, and took a production of Noyes Fludde to Monmouth’s French twin town of Carbonne in 1979.

He founded The International Children’s Opera Summer School (ICOSS) which, in 1981, performed Alice in Wonderland by Mervyn Burtch at The Rolls Hall in Monmouth with children from GB and Europe, helped by members of the Welsh National Opera and professional musicians. Colwyn took this production to Carpentras Festival the following year. One member of the chorus, Sophie Koch, pursued a career in music and is now an internationally renowned mezzo soprano, singing in all the major Opera Houses attributing her time in Monmouth with Colwyn and Mervyn spurred her to take up her career.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was Colwyn’s last production in the school hall, again a joint production with Monmouth School for Boys, in which the role of the White Witch was sung by his wife, Diane.

Colwyn’s passion for conducting orchestras included the BBC Welsh, Bournemouth Sinfonietta and the Bristol Sinfonia.

After leaving Monmouth in 1983, he was Director of Music at the International School in Vienna and later at the British School in Paris.

On returning to the UK, Colwyn was Head of Music at St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in Bristol, before retiring.

He maintained his passion for music, starting the Llandenny String Orchestra, still playing 30 years on, spending 10 years as Music Director at Monmouth Operatic Society (now Monmouth Music Theatre), and attended orchestral concerts and theatre performances with his wife.

Colwyn, who died peacefully on 1st January, is survived by his wife, Diane, children Nicky, Andrew and Matthew.

A funeral service will be taking place for family and invited guests at the Forest of Dean Crematorium on Friday 22nd January at 12.30pm.

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