The school has a long-standing tradition of musical excellence, both choral and instrumental. Roughly half of the boys in the school learn at least one musical instrument, and there are seventy music award holders. Tuition is offered in piano, harpsichord, organ, all the standard orchestral instruments, guitar (classical, bass and electric), saxophone, percussion and voice.
There are several orchestras, bands, and smaller ensemble groups (covering all musical styles): the school has an extensive performance programme and offers a series of masterclasses with visiting tutors. Each term there are several concerts and less formal recitals, including a concert, in the Octagon, focusing on a different instrument each week. The Music Department curates its own “Themed Festival” each Michaelmas Term featuring performances from staff, students and visiting artists. Previous years’ programmes have been Britten 100 and Over the Top (music composed between 1900 and 1920). This year’s theme will be music inspired by or written in the time of William Shakespeare. Houses hold their own musical evenings and there is an annual House music competition which involves up to a third of the school. Jazz and popular music are actively encouraged and flourish.
The Music School facilities include two recital halls, a suite of teaching and practice rooms, a music library, a sound-isolated percussion and rock suite, and a well-equipped double recording studio. The school’s “All Steinway” status guarantees top quality pianos in every room. Larger scale events are held in the school’s main hall, or in the magnificently restored Chapel - the four-manual Marcussen organ is internationally famous.
The boys regularly combine with musicians from outside the school, in student based and professional settings. Composer-in-Residence, Hywel Davies, has worked with the boys on their own compositions and improvisation. He will also be composing pieces specifically for school ensembles over the next few years. Members of the Southbank Sinfonia have coached and played alongside the Symphony Orchestra. Joint Senior and Junior Chamber Choirs with Kent College meet on a weekly basis. Other highlights have included Carissimi’s Jepthe with Benenden School at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius with London Concert Choir and the Southbank Sinfonia at the Royal Festival Hall and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique with Dorset Youth Orchestra. The Chapel Choir have sung Evensongs in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Southwark Cathedral and Chichester Cathedral and the Symphony Orchestra will be giving a series of concerts in Hong Kong in February 2013. Musicians also perform for members for the local community, organising visits to schools and homes as well as inviting groups to concerts on site. The whole school performs an especially commissioned work every few years in a charity concert. Howard Goodall and Jonathan Dove have both composed pieces for the school. The Chapel Choir has sung evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral, St George’s Chapel, Windsor and Chichester Cathedral as well as touring in Holland and Belgium last year. The Symphony Orchestra gave a series of concerts in Hong Kong in 2013.
Pupils have the opportunity to take Associated Board exams each term, and Trinity Guildhall exams annually within the school. They regularly achieve a high rate of success. The department offers group theory, scales and aural classes to all boys.
Over 80 boys have Grade VII or above and up to 70 boys take exams in a wide variety of instruments each year.