Music plays a prominent part in the life of Abingdon School. Over 400 pupils have instrumental tuition and are taught individually by a staff of 3 academic and some 36 instrumental teachers. Class music is part of the normal curriculum and music is studied by a relatively large number of students for GCSE and A level examinations (currently 45 and 6 respectively).
Instrumental tuition is offered in all the orchestral woodwind, brass, percussion and strings, together with piano, harp, saxophone, guitar (acoustic, electric and bass), drum kit, bagpipes and music technology. Individual singing lessons are also available, and candidates are prepared for choral and organ scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge – in recent years, a number of such awards have been won by students at the school.
Strong emphasis is placed on participation in the many Musical Activities at the School, which includes Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonia, Junior Strings, Symphonic Wind Band, Brass Band, Lower School Band, Big Band, Chapel Choir, Gospel Choir, Close harmony ensemble, Joint Choral Society and Chamber Choir (with St Helen and St Katharine School), and a large programme of chamber music for all instruments. The latter is a particularly strong and a prominent element in the department’s activity. A number of pupils represent the school in the Oxfordshire County Youth and the Thames Vale Youth Orchestras and several boys have played recently in the National Children’s and Youth Orchestras and National Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Further afield, the school’s orchestras and chamber ensembles have performed at the Oxfordshire Youth Prom, at London’s Royal Festival Hall in the National Festival of Music for Youth and at St John’s, Smith Square, in the National Schools’ Chamber Music Competition Finals. Frequently in the last 10 years the school has won prestigious places in the Finals Concert with senior students playing trios by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Shostakovich, Glinka, Zemlinksy and Martinu and quintets and octets by Dvorak and Mendelssohn.
International Concert Tours
International Concert Tours have characterised the department’s recent activity:
2000 Big Band to Athens and the Greek Islands
2002 First Orchestra to Vienna, Prague and Budapest
2004 2008 Big Band and Academicals to Argentan, Normandy
2005 Brass Band to Amsterdam
2006 First Orchestra to Hong Kong and Beijing, Abingdon’s 750th Anniversary Year
2009 Big Band to Tuscany (2010 Big Band CD released “Abingdon Plays More Jazz”)
2011 First Orchestra and Big Band tour to USA – Boston, New York, Washington DC
2013 Close Harmony Ensemble, ‘Abingdon Academicals’, to Bruges
2014 First Orchestra and Chapel Choir to Barcelona and Catalonia
2017 First Orchestra – Golden Anniversary Exchange Tour to Bielefeld, Germany
2019 First Orchestra Tour to Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Japan and Hong Kong
2023 Twin Town Music Tour to France and Belgium
Internal School Concerts
The school presents some 60 musical events each year, ranging from weekly lunchtime informal concerts, at which pupils perform solo and small group items, to the yearly full-scale concerts of the orchestras, bands and Joint Schools Choral Society. The latter comprises Abingdon and St Helen and St Katharine students together with staff, parents and friends of both schools.
The Chapel Choir comprises some 35 of the most experienced singers in the school. The choir has earned a considerable reputation outside the school as a result of its numerous visits to sing services at churches and cathedrals as far afield as Southwark and Chichester in addition to fulfilling its primary role as a focus for worship within the school at chapel services. The choir has recently recorded a compact disc of Christmas Music, which is available at the school. The Chapel is equipped with a fine three manual Walker pipe organ, rebuilt by Sebastian Meakin.
Whilst it is the function of the Chapel Choir to produce devotional music, there also exists a Close Harmony ensemble, the ‘Abingdon Academicals’, a group made up of about a dozen more experienced choristers who sing at regular school concerts. A First Year Trebles Choir also sings in the Christmas Concert and again at the Lower School Gala Concert in the Summer Term. The Gospel Choir involves students of all age groups who enjoy singing a range of secular repertoire including African songs and lighter music. The Joint Chamber Choir with St Helen and St Katharine School brings together some twenty or so senior singers from both schools for regular performances in both schools and elsewhere.
Visits to Concerts and Opera
In addition to the many music-making opportunities afforded at the school, students are also strongly encouraged to attend the music department excursions to recitals, operas and concerts in Oxford, London and Birmingham, as well as the professional concerts, which are held in the Amey Theatre.
The music department joins regularly with the School’s drama department in the production of junior and senior musico-dramatic works.
The Abingdon School Music Society
The work of the department is actively supported and assisted by the Abingdon School Music Society, a body of parents who, in addition to serving interval refreshments and raising funds for school music, organise their own social and musical events. Parents, especially those with musical children, are warmly invited to join the society; active committee members are particularly welcome.