Music: your questions answered

Alexandra, Antonia, Rossy and Poppy share their experience of all things musical at Downe House.

23 October 2020

1) Describe Music at Downe in two minutes?

Alexandra, Upper Sixth

Music is right at the heart of Downe House with all girls from Remove to Upper Fourth taking part in weekly music lessons. These cover a huge range of topics from pop music and minimalism to creating a Samba performance. Many girls go on to study Music for GCSE and A Level, creating wonderful compositions and performances with great results.

Throughout the year we have three main concerts, the Michaelmas concert, the Founder’s concert and our Music Showcase which is held at St John’s Church in Newbury and is open to the public. In addition to this, we also have the Concert of Light Music which showcases soloists, chamber ensembles and Sinfonia, and twice a year, there are Music Award Holders’ concerts.

At Downe, we love a good competition and in Music there is no exception with the annual House Music competition proving to be very popular with each House showcasing a soloist, vocal ensemble, instrumental ensemble and House choir, all run by girls in the Lower Sixth. During Founder’s Weekend, we also enjoy the final of Bring the House Downe where girls create a huge variety of performances from boomwhacker ensembles to a capella groups, all competing to win the Bring the House Downe trophy.

Each term many girls take ABRSM, Trinity and Rock School music exams in a huge range of instruments, with exceptional results. Each year, we also have a number of girls who take Diplomas and their incredible performances are thoroughly enjoyed in the Diploma Recitals that are open to anyone.

During lockdown we enjoyed a Virtual Music School where there were lots of activities for us to join in with, such as the weekly fun Music Challenge which has so far introduced us to Mahler 1 on the vacuum cleaner and Canon in D on bottles. There was also a Virtual Choir held every Friday over Zoom, which proved a welcome break from online lessons.

2) What if I’m interested in singing?

Rossy and Poppy, Upper Sixth

Here at Downe, we have a long-standing choral tradition. There are multiple opportunities for every year group to get involved with one or more of the choirs: Once Removed, In Harmony and Polyphonix to name a few. Within the past few years, Downe House has broadened its choral horizons and we have taken part in competitions such as Barnardo’s Choir of the year, winning in both 2018 and 2019 at the Royal Festival Hall and also gaining the role of reserve choir in Songs of Praise in 2020. Alongside this, we have recently been invited to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in the Hope and Homes Charity concert, performing alongside Katie Melua, and also the Judicial Service in Newbury at the invitation of the High Sheriff of Berkshire as well as hosting a Prep School Choir of the Year Competition at the Cadogan Hall with Bob Chilcott leading the adjudication panel. These have all been really extraordinary, off-site events that we are lucky to have been a part of and we hope to continue on this path of discovery through the coming years. On-site, there are also many chances to perform alongside your friends. For example, annually we hold two Carol Services in the Michaelmas term as well as our Michaelmas Music Showcase and Founder’s Weekend concerts at the end of the Summer term. Not only does choir provide incredible opportunities inside and outside of School, it is also a very social activity, allowing time for girls to relax while taking part in a worthwhile pastime. It’s is a great way to make friends from a range of different year groups, singing tuneful songs as a community.

3) Is there much instrumental music?

Antonia, Upper Sixth

There are lots of opportunities for instrumental players at Downe House. As an individual soloist, there are competitions you can enter both internally, for example our own Downe House Young Musician of the Year and externally, in the Berkshire Young Musician of the Year. Ultimately, these are chances to improve your performances overall and not simply a competition. The more exposure you have to performing in front of an audience, the better you will become and any nerves you may have had when joining will soon go away. We even offer individuals the chance to perform on a weekly basis in a small lunchtime concert in the Murray Centre, so that everybody has the opportunity. For anybody who would like to play an instrument and doesn’t yet, there is a scheme, called the Minority Instrument Scheme, unique to Downe where you are able to explore different, less familiar instruments and choose one of your choice to begin playing on a free trial. Many people in my year took up this opportunity and are still playing six years later! There are also many fabulous chamber groups at School applicable to anyone, at any standard which meet every week to rehearse and are often the prize and glory of concerts.

If you already play an instrument, there is the opportunity to take part in a number of large instrumental groups, including Sinfonia Strings, Sinfonia Wind, Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra and Big Band!

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