Christ’s Hospital senior choir finish third in the Choir of the Year competition
PUBLISHED: 16:49 28 April 2014 | UPDATED: 16:49 28 April 2014
Last month the senior choir at Christ’s Hospital came third in the Choir of the Year, facing competition from world-class amateurs. Hardly surprising since music has been at the heart of this school since the 16th century, discovers Jenny Mark-Bell
The majestic Quadrangle at Christ’s Hospital hums with voices. The Senior School Choir, Schola Cantorum, is performing Albert Hammond’s I’m a Train, the song that took them to third place in the Choir of the Year competition at London’s Barbican Centre. It’s a fitting choice for a school that, like Hogwarts, has its own railway station and this al fresco, a capella version is a charming display of ebullience at a school that takes music very seriously.
The school’s first Music Master was appointed in the 16th century, and since then it has hosted an array of talented musicians, including Sir Colin Davis, the late president and longest-serving principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Sir Colin remembered his time at Christ’s Hospital fondly and returned in 2004 to lead 400 students in a musical celebration of the school’s 450th anniversary.
Eighteen-year-old Gus Streeting is a cellist who also plays bass guitar and double bass. Fittingly, he also sings bass. “The music department was a big reason for coming here,” says Gus, who attended a cathedral school before moving to Christ’s Hospital. Gus has been able to nurture his bass guitar skills at annual jazz and blues nights in the school’s theatre.
Lunchtime concerts provide an opportunity for musicians of all levels to perform in a safe and supportive environment, and all students sing in Chapel. But music penetrates the fabric of Christ’s Hospital still more deeply. The famous marching band, which plays at Lords and Twickenham, plays the assembled students into the Dining Hall six days a week. The very fabric of the day is embroidered by music.
Music Director Andrew Cleary joined the school three years ago and heads a team of seven full-time staff and 28 visiting instrumental teachers.
Students are invited to borrow instruments, which are maintained by their use. Tim Duerden, 18, is the leader of Schola Cantorum. A French horn and piano player, he added the organ to his repertoire on joining the school a year ago.
There are four organs on site, including one played by Mendelssohn, and many gifted students have gone on to receive organ scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge over the school’s history.
Strong singers are also encouraged to apply for choral scholarships, and given many opportunities to find their voice.
Andrew Cleary himself specialises in choral singing and attributes a recent increase in interest to television choirmaster Gareth Malone. The 160-strong chapel choir is open to all ages and abilities, while Schola Cantorum consists of 28 auditioned older students. The gospel choir is entirely led by students.
Music for all is the overarching message of the department, says Andrew Cleary. To that end, at least 50 per cent of those students receiving individual tuition pay no fees, and all professional concerts taking place on site are free to students.
“A lot of young people are not particularly confident, and the skills and discipline you learn from music are invaluable,” says Andrew Cleary. “Music is so important to the life of the school.”
A musical journey
- There are five orchestras at Christ’s Hospital.
- Twenty-eight visiting teachers teach a range of different instruments.
- Intruments are free for student use.
- More than half of the students pay nothing for individual tuition.
- The school has a resident composer.
- Last year two students, Milo McKinnon and Elliot Corner, were awarded full scholarships to Trinity School of Music and the Royal College of Music respectively.