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Let us (remotely) entertain you! QE musicians serve up a musical feast for nursing home residents

When the emerging pandemic forced the cancellation of a concert at Abbey Ravenscroft Nursing Home, QE’s young musicians were determined not to let the residents down.

So, after boys from Year 7 through to Year 12 sent in a flood of videos of themselves performing at home, the Music department put together a special virtual concert, which was staged for the residents using YouTube’s Premier function.

Head of Extra-curricular Enrichment Rebecca Grundy said: “We were delighted to reach out to the local community and help lift spirits at this difficult time. The virtual concert went well and the nursing home staff sent us their gratitude, saying that it was lovely to hear the boys’ music. They said we obviously have a lot of talented musicians.”

In fact, the initial concert only scratched the surface of the available material, as Miss Grundy explained: “I got such an amazing response from the boys that I sent the nursing home all of the recordings, so that they could do a series of concerts and choose the ones they wanted for each. They’ve got enough from the boys to keep them going for ages!”

Residents at the home, which has more than 100 rooms and is only a short walk from the School, will therefore be able to enjoy Music in a wide variety of genres played on a broad range of instruments, with an extensive repertoire ranging from a tabla accompaniment to Pharrell Williams’ Happy (played by Isher Jagdev, of Year 9) to the Étude in A Minor written for the piano by 19th century Danish composer Ludvig Schytte.

Other performances included Julius Ponen playing Scott Joplin’s much-loved 1902 ragtime piano classic, The Entertainer, and Year 11’s Shivas Patel who not only played Oskar Merikanto’s Valse Lente in Bb major on the piano but also sang Brahms’ Ständchen (Serenade) in German.

Saxophonists crowned Chamber Champions

The School’s Saxophone Ensemble have been named among the 2020 Chamber Champions in the prestigious Pro Corda Music Festival.

After participating in a highly competitive semi-final at Westminster School, Nathan Woodcock of Year 9, Conor Parker-Delves of Year 11 and Ifeatu Obiora and Drew Sellis, both of Year 13, qualified for the final, which had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 virus restrictions.

Following the cancellation, the Pro Corda educational charity took the decision to name all the finalists ‘2020 Chamber Champions’, stating on its website: “It was one of the highest-standard festivals yet, so all the groups who reached the final pulled off a stunning achievement.”

Director of Music Ruth Partington said: “I congratulate the boys on this fantastic achievement, especially as this was their very first attempt in this competition.”

At the final, which was to have taken place at Sevenoaks School, the Saxophone Ensemble had planned to perform Sonata, First Movement by Phil Woods, arranged by Wilson.

The saxophonists comprised one of the three QE ensembles to reach the competition’s semi-finals, together with the String Quartet and the Celli Ensemble. Each of these ensembles had received expert feedback from the first round.

“All three ensembles took advantage of this advice to refine their performances still further and performed very well indeed,” said Miss Partington, adding that, although they did not reach the final, the String Quartet “played the best they have ever played”.

Established in 1969, Pro Corda provides musical training for a wide range of young people through ensemble training and performance, specialising in chamber music.

Toe-tapping numbers at the Jazz Evening

A capacity audience at QE’s Jazz Evening enjoyed debut performances alongside accomplished playing by some of the School’s more seasoned musicians.

There were ensemble and solo performances of works from classics and standards to new jazz-influenced compositions, as well as fusions of jazz with other styles.

Boys from Years 7– 13 enjoyed the opportunity to showcase their flair for everything jazz in the Main School Hall.

Director of Music Ruth Partington said: “The audience enjoyed a fabulous concert – a truly toe-tapping evening. The boys practised and rehearsed hard in the weeks running up to the concert and did not disappoint on the night, giving enjoyable and memorable performances.”

Symphonic Winds, performing for the first time in this annual concert, opened the programme with A Little Salsa Music by Adam Gorb and Jitterbug! by Robert Buckley. And Year 7’s Leo Sellis performed his first saxophone solo since joining the School in September last year, playing Sonata, Movement II by Phil Woods.

The QE Jazz Band played a number of sets, delivering, amongst others, the Theme from Hawaii Five-O by Mort Stevens and Cool from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. “The Jazz Band proved themselves, once again, to be the backbone of the evening,” said Miss Partington. “The audience were continually impressed by their tight but exuberant playing. There were some excellent solos from all the instruments, with a special mention going to Conor Parker-Delves on tenor.”

The Jazz Lounge performed their own arrangement of George Michael’s Careless Whisper, while Friday Jazz took on jazz classic Birdland by Joe Zawinul.

“The audience enjoyed a real treat with the performances from Friday Jazz and the various Saxophone Ensembles, and were suitably impressed by the quality of the student-led groups, such as the Barbershop Group and QE Jazz Lounge. All the boys are to be congratulated for their enthusiasm and accomplished performances.” Miss Partington concluded.

Mixing with the best at the Barbican

Year 10 cellist Jules de Souza-Brazil played with some of Britain and America’s finest young musicians and performed in London’s famous Barbican Concert Hall during a special event organised by the National Youth Orchestra.

Jules relished the opportunity to take his place on stage with the specially formed Tuning into Change Orchestra and then to join a masterclass given by Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, during the maestro’s three-day Barbican residency.

Headmaster, Neil Enright, said: “I’m pleased to hear that Jules had an unforgettable experience playing with such a high-quality orchestra in a top London concert venue. It is always great to see our flourishing musicians extending themselves through out of School opportunities, as well as committing to our own programme of performance music.”

Jules is a member of QE’s Celli ensemble and has also played with the Sinfonia, Camerata and Symphony Orchestra. This week the Celli are taking part in the first round of the Pro Corda Festival, a national competition promoting and celebrating chamber music within schools.

His experience at the Barbican was the culmination of a National Youth of Great Britain NYO Inspire event. These are immersive orchestral workshops which provide black and minority ethnic musicians, and musicians who are state-educated or home-schooled, with opportunities to develop their orchestral playing with a full symphony orchestra.

Jules spent the Sunday before his day at the Barbican at an East London school, where he rehearsed with around 120 other young musicians, including some from the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) as well as musicians from the NYO.

The public event at the Barbican started with a performance of The Great Gate of Kiev, which is part of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

During the masterclass afterwards, Dudamel rehearsed Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, again with young musicians from across the UK, as well as YOLA and members of the NYO.

‘And the light shineth in darkness’

Queen Elizabeth’s School’s Service of Nine Lessons and Carols embraced the best of Christmas tradition, while several fresh touches added still further to the festive atmosphere.

This year, before the service began, Year 13’s Drew Sellis, who has won a Cambridge organ scholarship, took his place in the organ loft in Chipping Barnet Parish Church to perform pieces by Bach, Brahms and his own fantasia on Once in Royal David’s City.

After the organ voluntaries, there was a further innovation as the church was plunged into darkness for two minutes of silent reflection, with the lights remaining off as the Chamber Choir sang the antiphon and then a soloist performed the initial verse of the carol that Drew had already prefigured.

The carols and choral pieces throughout the service were interspersed with Christmas Bible readings from boys and staff, culminating in Headmaster Neil Enright’s reading of the prologue to St John’s gospel, with its themes of Jesus Christ as both the Word and Light of God.

Before the service, Old Elizabethans and VIP guests were invited to a reception at nearby Church House, at which they were entertained by the String Quartet.

Mr Enright said afterwards: “This was an excellent carol service and a fitting way to herald the start of the holidays. It is always a special occasion in a QE Christmas, and this year it was enhanced by the dramatic and symbolic shared experience of waiting in darkness for the light to appear.

“I was pleased to see so many governors, Old Elizabethans, former staff and other friends of the School. Our Year 7 boys always come to the carol service to round off their first term and it was good to welcome a good number of their parents, too. I commend our choristers, instrumental musicians and readers on their contributions to the evening.”

Mr Enright also thanked the Reverend Chris Ferris, officiating at his final service for the School. Mr Ferris, who has served as a governor while in post as Rector, moves on from the parish at the end of the calendar year.

The church was absolutely full, with some even having to stand at the back. The congregation joined in with the familiar carols, while the Chamber Choir sang Arvo Pärt’s version of Bŏgŏroditsye Dyevo and then the Chamber Choir soloists sang Rachmaninov’s version. The School Choir’s pieces included O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

In one of his final duties, 2019 School Captain Bhiramah Rammanohar read the story of the birth of Jesus from Saint Luke’s gospel. He was joined at the service by three of the last four School Captains, Norbert Sobolak (2015), Varun Vassanth (2016) and Aashish Khimasia (2018).

The Mayor of Barnet was represented by ward councillor (and former Mayor) David Longstaff. The Representative Deputy Lieutenant of the London Borough of Barnet, Martin Russell, was also in attendance.

At the conclusion of the service, Drew played again, first performing Widor’s Movement 5 (Toccata) from Symphony for Organ No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42, No.1, and then improvising again on one of the carols, this time Hark the Herald Angels Sing, which the congregation had just sung. Drew has an Organ Scholarship at Jesus College, Cambridge, for next year and is believed to be the first Elizabethan in living memory to have secured such a scholarship.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing…and samba: old favourites and innovation, too, at the Christmas Concert

QE’s new Samba Band brought some hot Latin rhythms to a bleak winter’s night in Barnet at the School’s Christmas Concert.

The annual charity fund-raising event held in association with the Rotary Club of Barnet featured works by Mozart, Dvořák, Rachmaninov and Offenbach, as well as film themes, classical Indian music and some well-known carols, for which audience participation was definitely encouraged!

With 14 different ensembles taking centre-stage in the Shearly Hall during the course of the evening, the concert involved contributions from hundreds of boys and many staff.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This was an excellent concert, with great variety in terms of genres and styles, and a high standard of performance throughout. My congratulations go to all those involved in putting on a very good evening’s festive entertainment.”

VIP guests included the Mayor of the London Borough of Barnet, Cllr Caroline Stock, and her husband, Old Elizabethan Dr Richard Stock, and Colin Luke, President of the Rotary Club of Barnet, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

After the String Quartet entertained the audience as they took their seats, the programme proper began with three pieces by the Symphonic Winds, who were directed by QE’s new Director of Music, Ruth Partington.

The Celli played an arrangement of English composer and organist Herbert Howell’s carol, A Spotless Rose.

The audience were then transported to two different continents, first with the Samba Band’s début appearance and then with the Senior Indian Ensemble performing Valachi Vachi.

The Chamber Choir sang both Arvo Pärt’s and Rachmaninov’s versions of Bŏgŏroditsye Dyevo, before the Jazz Band brought the first half romping to an end with the Hawaii Five-o Theme and I wan’na be like you, from Disney’s Jungle Book.

After the interval, the Barbershop group performed three songs, finishing with Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

The highly varied nature of the repertoire continued, with the Camerata playing two works by Mozart, followed by pieces by the Sax Ensemble which included Destiny’s Child’s Eight Days of Christmas, and then by a Lennon and McCartney medley from the School Choir’s tenors and basses.

As the concert drew towards a close, the whole School Choir sang the popular Carol of the Bells, composed in 1919. The Symphony Orchestra then took on Offenbach’s Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld, Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 8 and Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival.

Bringing the evening to a rousing end, the massed ranks of the Symphony Orchestra and School Choir led the audience in singing Once in Royal David’s City and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

Whether it’s Schumann or Metallica, making music makes a difference!

The School’s first large-scale concert of the academic year gave the junior ensembles the chance to showcase the repertoire they have been rehearsing since September.

In her welcome to the Autumn Concert audience, QE’s new Director of Music, Ruth Partington, set out a powerful argument for the importance of participation in extra-curricular music.

The boys, including many from Year 7, then performed a programme that featured a truly eclectic mix of genres and styles, ranging from the Sinfonia’s playing of Schumann’s Träumerei to the Guitar Ensemble’s rendition of Metallica’s Fade to Black.

Miss Partington said in her address how much she had enjoyed her first few months at QE since joining the School from Canford School in Dorset.

She then pointed to the contribution that Music makes “to the development of soft skills, which are so important at interviews and in life generally.” Music, she said, “helps develop boys at QE into rounded scholars”.

Later in the evening, together with the Headmaster, Neil Enright, she presented Music colours to select boys in Years 8 to 10.

Ensembles performing on the night included the Concert Band, Junior Indian Ensemble, Flute Ensemble, the B Minors barbershop group, Queen Elizabeth’s Jazz Lounge, Friday Jazz, the Sinfonietta and the Trebles & Altos of the School Choir.

The evening began with the Concert Band performing John Williams’ Highlights from Harry Potter. After the interval, during which refreshments were served in the Dining Hall, the Sinfonietta also performed film music – Theme from Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean – before the Trebles & Altos rounded off the night’s entertainment with Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

The audience in the Shearly Hall included a number of guests whom Sixth Formers were hosting from the High Barnet Good Neighbour Scheme, a voluntary service giving practical help to the elderly, sick and anyone finding it difficult to cope.

Next in the School’s musical calendar are the Christmas Concert on 10th December and the traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at Chipping Barnet Parish Church on 18th December.

Staff and boys shine in concert – and there’s no stopping Cambridge scholar Drew

QE’s first concert of the year delivered a “very high standard” of performance from both pupils and staff, including the School’s new Director of Music, Ruth Partington.

The programme featured well-known items from the classical repertoire – a Chopin Nocturne and an excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, for example – as well as several lesser-known pieces.

Soloists included sixth-former Drew Sellis, who was celebrating the news that he had won an Organ Scholarship at Jesus College, Cambridge, for next year. Drew, one of the School’s leading musicians pictured here with his saxophone, played the piano at the concert, performing Dussek’s Sonata in Bb Movement I.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “This was a splendid evening, with a great deal of talent in evidence from boys who played to a very high standard. My congratulations go to all involved, and especially to Drew upon his very special achievement.”

Drew is to be the first Oxbridge organ scholar from the School since Peter Yarde Martin (OE 2002-2007), who attended Pembroke College, Cambridge, and provided advice to Drew as he prepared his application.

With nine pieces played in each half of the concert held in the Main School Hall, there was variety a-plenty, from Year 13’s Mubin Kazmi’s rendition of Grammy Award-winner Steve Vai’s Die to Live on the electric guitar to Year 12 cellist Karan Zakharia’s performance of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude and Sarabande.

Entitled Senior Concert, the event in fact featured not only older boys but pupils from throughout the School; they were selected according to their seniority in terms of talent and proficiency.

Alongside the boys’ performances, there were also pieces from several members of staff. Miss Partington and another newcomer, Caroline Grint, QE’s new Music Graduate Assistant, brought out their clarinets in their first QE concert, playing Mendelssohn’s Concertpiece No. 2 Movements II and III. Peripatetic teacher Tadashi Imai accompanied them and other musicians during the evening, but also played two piano solo pieces, Debussy’s Feux d’artifice (Fireworks) from Preludes Book II and Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise.

Ensembles taking part included the Celli, playing Fauré’s Fugue in A minor Op.84, and the Brass Ensemble (Zingarelli’s Adagio and Presto), while the Chamber Choir opened the evening with John Ireland’s The Hills.

‘Meditate and do something productive’: sounding out career plans

Countless hours spent jamming with friends in the Music block at QE sowed the seeds of Sergio Ronchetti’s career as a composer and sound designer for video games and films.

Returning to the School to deliver a careers lecture to Senior School pupils, Sergio (OE 2004–2011) recalled that when he decided to go into music instead of taking a place at university, everyone around him said he was making a mistake.

But, he told the boys, he had no regrets about his chosen path, since it had put him in control of what he was doing. He loves practising music six-to-eight hours a day as he finds it therapeutic and it gives him direction. He had been true to himself, his career giving him opportunities to learn from, helping him to mature and making him happy. “It’s more about the journey, rather than the end game. Every day I get a little bit better at something, I progress.

“Give yourself time to make decisions – meditate and do something productive,” he advised the boys gathered in the Shearly Hall. “If you don’t know what to do for a career, take a year out, work, take a course. There’s no rush!” Just as in rugby, you must actually take steps forward in order to achieve your career goals, particularly if those goals are ambitious, he said.

Sergio spent the first four years after leaving QE as a professional musician, culminating in the release of a full-length album. During this time, he achieved several accolades, including an artist endorsement from ESP Guitars and Laney Amplification, while also performing at major festivals and at sold-out shows in both UK and mainland Europe.

He did eventually go to university – but in his own time and as the next logical step in his career plan. Although he came from a rock background (influenced by his uncle’s heavy metal collection), he decided to eschew a possible future in a touring band playing guitar, because he “wanted to be a part of something bigger”. He loves the indie game scene and says his ambitions include working on “the biggest video game in history”. Asked what his ten-year goals were, Sergio staed: “I would like to score a couple of good jobs in film – possibly become head of a music production department”.

Thus, in 2016, in order to facilitate this burgeoning ambition to become a film and game composer, he went to Goldsmiths, University of London, to study Music, from where he graduated with a First.

Today, Sergio works as a freelancer, describing himself on his own website as a ‘composer/sound designer’. His recent work on the indie game Eldest Souls was showcased at E3 Los Angeles, the premier trade event for the video industry.

He is a regular supporter of the School and gave a presentation on sound design in video games at last year’s Year 11 Careers Convention.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Sergio’s story is a very interesting one – through a combination of determination and talent, he is successfully forging a career in a highly competitive industry. Of course, unlike him, a very large majority of our boys do go on to university immediately on leaving the School or after a gap year, but we are keen to make sure that pupils are fully informed about all the different options available to them so that they can make the choices that are best for them.”

Sergio advised any boys interested in following in his footsteps not to rely on making money from such a career in the beginning. “Freelance work takes a while to build up. Do it as a hobby first. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, either; you can use your laptop or iPhone.”

Sergio was happy to dispense a little technical advice – he suggests Logic or Ableton software for music production, using Logic himself, while Pro Tools is good for film-editing.

Asked about the skills required for a career similar to his, Sergio urged the boys to be open to possibilities and to be prepared. “If someone comes to you and says ‘are you ready to mix this album?’ you need to take the challenge.” He does not believe in luck: “It’s all about work ethic and discipline.”

There were also questions about the UK grime & rap industry and whether it incites violence. Sergio said he believed not; artists were merely expressing the violence going on around them. He added, however: “As a musician you do have a level of responsibility and need to be aware of what messages you’re spreading.”

Body blows: Year 7 practise percussion without instruments

The whole of Year 7 found out more about the amazing musical potential of the human body in a pair of percussion workshops.

During the events, organised by the Music department as part of QE’s Enrichment Week, the boys had ample opportunity to try out for themselves techniques used to make music without any instruments.

Acting Director of Music Jennifer Brown said: “These activities were not only great fun, but they also really stretched the boys. Using the voice and/or body to make music as part of a group enhances pupils’ musicianship by providing strategies to help them achieve a collective sense of pulse and to memorise different rhythms, therefore allowing them to fully engage with musical material.”

In a two-hour Body Percussion workshop led by experts from music and dance organisation Inspire-works, pupils were shown how to produce exciting rhythms and sounds by stamping their feet on the floor, patting thighs with open palms, clicking fingers, clapping hands and patting or knocking their chest.

Mrs Brown said: “The morning culminated in a complicated dance routine that was challenging and exhilarating.”

The other workshop was on beatboxing (a musical style based on the vocal imitation of percussion sounds) and was led by QE Music teacher Hannah Morgan. Pupils explored a variety of vocal patterns and sounds that went well beyond the familiar ‘boots and cats’ sound typically learned by beatboxing beginners.

“For years, scientists have struggled to identify and classify the intricate sounds that emanate from a beatboxer’s mouth. Year 7 had lots of fun in this workshop, but as they discovered, beatboxing is definitely harder to do well than you might imagine,” added Mrs Brown.