The Work of the Music Department

Music plays a prominent part in the life of Abingdon School. Over half of the boys have instrumental tuition and are taught individually by a staff of 3 academic and some 34 instrumental teachers. Class music is part of the normal curriculum and music is studied by a relatively large number of boys for GCSE and A level examinations (currently 32 and 6 respectively).

Instrumental tuition is offered in all the orchestral woodwind, brass, percussion and strings, together with piano, 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 boys at the school. From September 2018 the hourly charge is £45.90 so a typical 30 minute lesson is £22.95. Instruments may be hired from school at a cost of £80 per term for each instrument, for up to 3 terms. In the case of bassoon, French horn and tuba, a longer hire period may be possible. There is no charge for the hire of violins, violas and double basses.

Michael Stinton, Director of Music

Strong emphasis is placed on participation in the many Musical Activities at the School, which includes First Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Second Orchestra, 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’s 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 boys 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 boys playing trios by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Shostakovich, Glinka, Zemlinksy and Martinu and quintets and octets by Dvorak and Mendelssohn. Two ensembles won places in the finals in 2015.

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

The school presents some 60 musical events each year, ranging from weekly lunchtime informal concerts, at which boys 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 boys and girls from St Helen’s and St Katharine’s together with staff, parents and friends of both schools. Works performed recently by the Choral Society have included Bach’s ‘St Matthew Passion’, ‘St John Passion’, B minor Mass and ‘Christmas Oratorio’, Bruckner’s ‘Te Deum’, Handel’s ‘Messiah’, Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ and ‘Solemn Vespers’, Poulenc’s ‘Gloria’, Rossini’s ‘Stabat Mater’ and ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’, Verdi’s ‘Requiem’, Vaughan Williams’ ‘Serenade to Music’, Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’, Bernstein’s ‘Chichester Psalms’, Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’, Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ and Haydn’s Creation in the Sheldonian Theatre. Rehearsals in the Michaelmas Term are on Wednesdays, 7.30 – 9.00pm, and all will be welcome to come along and join us.

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 boys 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’s School brings together some twenty or so senior singers from both schools for regular performances in both schools and elsewhere.

In addition to the many music-making opportunities afforded at the school, boys 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, recently Jesus Christ SuperstarSweeney ToddCabaretOliverWest Side StoryBugsy MaloneCandideLes Miserables and London Road.

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 sons, are warmly invited to join the society; active committee members are particularly welcome.