Watch Big Band, Chamber Orchestra and the First Year Choir in action or view the virtual tours below:
Music is at the centre of life at Abingdon School both geographically and metaphorically – and it involves a very large number of boys, currently well over 400. Many of these pupils are engaged in the school’s ensembles and choirs, creating an atmosphere of musical creativity that extends well beyond the boundaries of the Music School.
Music is a compulsory subject in the Lower School and is designed to introduce boys to the three main areas of music that will be developed as they progress throughout the school - namely, those of performance, listening and composing. The boys have two music lessons per fortnightly cycle. These class music lessons give the boys an opportunity to discover and experience the main instruments of the orchestra and many pupils choose to take up the opportunity to start lessons with our specialist team of some forty instrumental teachers. Typically, before long, they can join the many bands and orchestras that are provided; we take the entire 1st Year to an orchestral concert, usually in Birmingham, which cements their understanding in this area.
In the 2nd Year the boys continue to use musical notation, which strengthens their instrumental work, and is consolidated by listening, watching and writing about musical performances in lessons of musical appreciation. The other lesson is spent in singing with a specialist choral teacher. In this work the boys prepare for various performances through the year including the House Singing Competition, The Christmas Concerts and the Lower School Gala Concert. The focus on singing at Abingdon feeds and strengthens the pupils’ participation throughout their time at the school, not least in congregational singing in weekly chapel services and in the whole school Annual House Singing Competition.
In the 3rd year Music becomes an option and the four lessons per cycle are divided equally between music listening and composition lessons with our specialist teacher in the Music Technology Suite. Here, the pupils use the latest music software, principally, Sibelius, to develop the required techniques to produce their own musical compositions to a specified brief. The other lessons are spent in undertaking listening and analysis tasks. They introduce the boys to the kind of work that they will experience in the GCSE course, which becomes another option for them in the 4th Year.
Boys who choose music as a GCSE option in the 4th Year continue to develop their skills as composers, as performers and in listening through the study of a wide range of set works. We take the Edexcel music course, which combines a wide range of areas of study, together with a good level of rigour in its assessments. The lessons are divided equally between composition and listening/set works. By the end of the two-year course the pupils will have completed two compositions and be ready to sit the 1 hour 45 minute listening examination in which they will be tested both on their aural skills, their knowledge of the set works - and their ability to apply their knowledge in associated works where the same principles of composition apply. The performance work comprises a solo and an ensemble piece which is recorded, marked and sent for moderation. This work is undertaken by the instrumental teachers but coordinated and supervised by the academic staff.
At A level, we take the OCR specification. The listening and set works paper, worth 40% overall, gives the pupils a strong grounding in four different areas of study, two compulsory (18th century Instrumental Music and Jazz) and two which are chosen (Baroque Choral Music and Programme Music of the 19th Century). The pupils analyse in some detail a range of works, which gives them all the required skills to pursue music at university, should this be their decision. The composing and performance modules offer a welcome degree of flexibility as the boys can choose the weighting of each, either 35% or 25%. This allows the pupils to play to their strengths, as each module requires a slightly greater or lesser emphasis in what is required. The performance-heavy option requires a longer recital, whilst the composition one requires evidence in the final portfolio of some more formal exercises in stylistic harmony. Each year several pupils choose to study music at university or at conservatoire - of the former, there are often those who secure organ or choral awards at Oxford or Cambridge choral foundations.
Whilst the Music department facilitates music making of all genres, creating a real sense of inclusivity, the excellence of the music at Abingdon is renowned both regionally and nationally. Many distinguished musicians have emerged from the school in recent years in the fields of Rock (Johnny Greenwood and Radiohead), Jazz (Tom Richards and his Jazz Orchestra), soloists (Tristan Gurney, leader of the Edinburgh String Quartet), singing (Johnny Herford, winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Solo Song award 2013), as well as teachers, composers, recording engineers and music producers. The boys’ musical talent is nurtured by a team of over forty teachers in studies ranging from bagpipes to bass guitar, piccolo to tuba and music technology to organ. The many concerts at school are always open to families and friends.
Opportunities for pupils to perform music at Abingdon are rich and diverse and they bring huge benefits to the pupils as they collaborate together in their music making. Symphony Orchestra to Piano trio, Big Band Jazz to Drum Circle, Close Harmony to Choral Society – these all enable the department to engage with each and every pupil who has a musical interest. Our philosophy is to make music a fun activity for all, whilst striving for the highest of possible musical standards. Recent initiative has been the foundation of a Gospel Choir and a Joint Chamber Choir with St Helen’s School, an ensemble that has already recorded an exciting disc, joining those already released by the Big Band (2009) and the Abingdon Academicals (2013).
International concert tours have enriched the musical lives of our pupils and have fostered a sense of community in the department. They also provide a real focus and dynamic for the ensembles as they prepare in the preceding year. The most recent tours have included Barcelona (2014), Belgium (2013), USA (2011), Tuscany (2009), Hong Kong and Beijing (2006), and Bielefeld, Germany (2017) with our Orchestra for a 50th Anniversary of the language exchange with Ratsgymnasium. The standing ovation in Washington National Cathedral that the First Orchestra received is an experience that few of the boys will forget!
Abingdon is a school that sings – and singing informs the lives of all our pupils in Lower School curriculum lessons, Chapel Services, the Annual House Singing and in a range of choirs. A particular emphasis is placed on chamber music, which sees our Music Scholars taking a leading role in a wide range of ensembles that engage with a great many of our pupils. The Director of Music is always delighted to hear from talented and promising musicians who enter the school, many with awards, at 11, 13 or 16.
Further information about the music department curriculum can be found in the curriculum documents available for download on the main curriculum page.