Music at Oakham School
1st November 2021
Clare Rudd-Jones went to meet Peter Davis, Oakham School’s Director of Music, who is now in his 17th year at the school. Under Peter’s experienced lead, the school’s exceptional musical offering is tightly interwoven with the local community – something that benefits both its pupils and the wider audience within Rutland and around
The figures are impressive… there are 40 music teachers in the vibrant music department at Oakham School, with hundreds of individual music lessons taking places at the school every week. ‘Every child should have an opportunity to learn music,’ Peter stresses, and indeed they do here. This philosophy is something that Peter supports well beyond the day job, in his role as Chair of the Rutland Music Hub, working with local state schools to promote music to youngsters across the region and to support the belief in the importance of vocal opportunities for all children.
Why learn music?
The benefits of learning an instrument and performing with others are manifold: for the individual, learning an instrument requires discipline and drive – it’s the perfect way to promote the ability to be an independent learner. There’s a strong mindfulness element to music, too – it requires the complete attention of the student, it’s therapeutic, it’s emotive – it releases feel-good hormones. Music as therapy is nothing new: the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes noted: ‘He who sings scares away his woes.’
Playing or singing with others – in chamber groups, an orchestra or a choral group – develops social interaction skills, it helps development as a team player, and, related to that, it brings on communication skills. And for anyone organising a group of musicians, be that a rock band, chamber group, barbershop or a symphony orchestra, it demands leadership qualities and presentation skills. All of these are brilliant life skills.
‘It’s why we strongly believe in the co-curricular at Oakham,’ says Peter. ‘Pupils genuinely learn from it, it upskills you.’
And there is, of course, the personal satisfaction and enjoyment involved in playing music – something that anyone who has pushed through the pain barrier past the basics will certainly appreciate.
Public performance is fundamental to music at Oakham School, and the musical opportunities it offers to its pupils are many. On the vocal front, there is a variety of choirs, including limited-age-range choirs and what Peter calls ‘vertical’ choirs – those that give the youngest pupils the chance to mix with the older students. These, he explains, are incredibly positive, great for boosting confidence on all levels; for the younger pupils, who look up to the older ones, and for the older students in their position as role models.
Instrumentally, there are bands and orchestras, plus the opportunity to collaborate on musical theatre with the Drama Department. Every pupil’s interest in music is nurtured, and excellence is recognised. Talented musicians can audition for music scholarships and exhibitions at 11+, 13+ and 16+ entrance levels.
The school puts on around 80 concerts a year, giving many of its pupils the opportunity to perform, and with something for all levels. The backbone of the calendar is made up of the free lunchtime concerts at All Saints’ Church, every Wednesday (market day) at 1.30pm in term time. Peter describes these as ‘a fix of culture every week’, and they are a key element in the school’s strong relationship with the local community. Even during lockdown, when live audiences were unable to attend, these concerts were streamed or recorded – something that the department will be continuing (see https://bit.ly/oakhammusic).
In addition to the Wednesday lunchtime concerts, there are informal concerts within the school, where pupils perform to peers or parents, then they work towards larger-scale events, such as seasonal concerts, the next of which is the keenly anticipated Autumn Concert, on 5 November.
There are musicals, too, produced in conjunction with the Drama Department – usually three of these over two years. This term, it’s the fittingly upbeat ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, chosen to give performers and spectators a much-needed lift.
Professional Concert Series and amateur music performances
The school also organises a Professional Concert Series, which launched in mid-October with the highly acclaimed Enigma 14. These concerts are part of the school’s philosophy of giving pupils as many opportunities as possible to hear live music, as well as broadening the cultural offering locally. This term they have a new, hour-long format, followed by refreshments and the optional chance to chat afterwards with the performers – a lovely opportunity for those that wish to.
Additional highlights of the musical year at the School Chapel are concerts from local amateur ensembles Rutland Sinfonia and Oakham Choral Society. Rutland Sinfonia typically play two concerts a year in Oakham School Chapel, with a further two at St Peter’s Church in Oundle. Oakham Choral Society, which benefits from support from the staff at Oakham School as well as the use of its facilities, returns to the stage on 11 December for the first time in two years. The Society is always keen to recruit new members – all are welcome and there is no audition. You can go along to a rehearsal for free to see if it’s for you – details can be found on the Society’s website, www.oakhamchoralsociety.org.uk, under ‘Join Us’.
It’s so exciting and uplifting to see what is planned musically at Oakham School for the rest of 2021 and beyond – wonderful that in-person performances are taking place again… and wonderful that we, as the wider local community, are able to partake in the fabulous offering that is so enriching to pupils.
Free 1.30pm concerts on Wednesdays in November at All Saints’ Church in Oakham
• 3 November, Ethan Taylor, Cello
• 10 November, Imogen O’Neill, Guitar and Guitar Ensemble
• 17 November, Lucy Collison, Piano
• 24 November, Joshua Davis and
Daniel Kelly, Horn
• 5 November, 7.30pm: Autumn Concert
• 12 November, 7.30pm: Ensembles
• 26 November, 7.15pm: Lower School
Live in Concert
• 11 December, 7.30pm: Oakham Choral Society Concert
• 30 November to 4 December,
Singin’ in the Rain
To find out more, check out Oakham
School’s Arts Calendar online at