Wycombe Abbey prides itself on the quality of its music-making and the department strives always to find new ways to inspire and stretch the school's musicians, with the Chapel Choir in chapel, in concert and undertaking international tours; the Symphony Orchestra which gives much-anticipated annual performances in the Spring Concert held at a central London venue each year; a Chamber Orchestra for the most advanced string and occasional woodwind/horn players; a Choral Group which is joint with Eton College, presenting a major choral work annually; a Jazz Band which is in demand both in and out of School; a whole gamut of chamber music ensembles which have achieved great success in the South East Schools' Chamber Music Competition; and a thriving rock scene linked with Harrow, Eton and other schools.
Individual achievement is high and each year over 160 girls enter for ABRSM exams, many achieving Merit or Distinction at Grade 8. Several girls have also gained Performance Diplomas, won Choral Scholarships to Oxbridge, and been selected to play/sing in the National Youth and Children's Orchestras and Choirs.
For intermediate musicians we have Sinfonia, an excellent orchestra in its own right which prepares players for the challenges of the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, a Concert Band for woodwind and brass players, and Chancel Choir for those interested in singing and hoping to join the Chapel Choir. In addition, we run a Junior Band for all musicians in UIII, and an UIII Choir.
Music at Wycombe Abbey enters into all aspects of School life and it is of this which we are most proud. Though membership of the most accomplished ensembles is competitive, and we encourage each girl to realise her full potential, we believe that the experience of music-making, both individual and collaborative, should be available to all pupils, whatever their level of skill. Thus, many of our thirty-five full-time and visiting Music staff, who deliver lessons to approximately two-thirds of the School population, also provide the opportunity for their pupils to play in a group wherever possible. As such, in addition to the ensembles detailed above, the following also happen on a weekly basis: brass ensemble, three flute ensembles, double reed trio, a large number of string quartets, piano trios, piano quartets, saxophone quartets, clarinet duos, mixed membership quartets/trios/duos and rock bands. All girls in the School take part in the annual House Music Competition, House Chapel Services and Whole School Singing sessions on a Friday afternoon.
Weekly informal lunchtime concerts for musicians of all levels take place usually in Fisher Library, a flexible 80-seat venue in the main Abbey building which houses an excellent Steinway grand piano. We also present a lunchtime concert each year at All Saints Church, High Wycombe, and a tea-time concert at All Saints Church, Marlow.
Girls at Wycombe Abbey are encouraged to pursue excellence in music performance and can do so by participating in the many musical ensembles that are offered at the School. Although many of the groups cater to our advanced players, there are opportunities for girls of all levels to engage in collaborative music making.
Symphony Orchestra exists to give skilled instrumentalists the opportunity to play major symphonic works, and achieves an extremely high standard of performance. The vast majority of players are of Grade 7 standard or higher, and many have Grade 8 distinction on at least one instrument. Membership for string and brass players is on the recommendation of a girl's instrumental teacher, while woodwind players are auditioned in September.
The Orchestra rehearses in preparation for annual performances, usually at the Archer Concert, Spring Concert and Spring Concerto Concert. The Spring Concert takes place at an external venue, such as St John's Smith Square, London, the Royal College of Music or the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. Our most advanced musicians in Clarence have the opportunity to play concerto movements with the Symphony Orchestra.
Sinfonia is an ensemble for instrumentalists of about Grade 4-7 standard which achieves remarkably polished performances thanks to the dedication of the girls involved and Miss McClure, Assistant Director of Music, who directs it. Membership is on the recommendation of a girl's instrumental teacher and part of the role of Sinfonia is to help girls to develop the ensemble skills they will need to progress to the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. This is done within the context of repertoire that is by turns challenging and light-hearted. Sinfonia usually performs three times annually: the Archer Concert in November, Chamber Music Concert in February, and Summer Concert in May.
Chamber Orchestra is a busy group and has as its core a group of extremely skilled and committed string players, to which wind players are added when required. Membership is by invitation of the Head of Strings, Mr Hadwen. The group performs to a very high standard in a wide range of styles and genres and also provides accompaniment to some of our concerto players.
The Chamber Orchestra performs outside school on a regular basis, to great acclaim, and undertakes international tours with the choirs.
Concert Band is an inclusive ensemble that plays fun and engaging music in informal concerts and at events throughout the School year, such as whole School Carol Practice in the Autumn term. All wind instrumentalists are encouraged to join, and the group is run by Mr Ledingham, the Head of Woodwind and Brass.
The Brass Ensemble rehearses weekly with Mr Rogers and performs at the Remembrance Service, undertakes busking in High Wycombe for charity in December, and sometimes plays in the Chamber Music Concert and/or Summer Concert.
Junior Band is for instrumentalists in UIII. For many girls, this is their first exposure to ensemble music-making and so we aim to make the experience as fun and enjoyable as possible, while instilling in them good habits upon which they can build as they progress through the School and into more senior groups. Junior Band performs in the UIII Christmas Entertainment at the end of the Autumn term, and at the UIII Concert for Parents in June.
Chapel Choir is for those girls in upper year groups who want to build their choral skills by singing regularly in both rehearsal and performance. All members are auditioned before joining. As the senior choral ensemble, singers are expected to show a mature commitment to the Choir and its performances. The Choir provides music for weekly Chapel services but also prepares for several major events throughout the year. These include the Carol Services, during which they sing to over 1200 people, the Archer Concert, Confirmation Services, the Summer Concert and Dove Day. In addition, the Choir visits cathedrals to sing and also benefits from masterclasses and workshops with world-class musicians.
The repertoire encountered by Chapel Choir is wide-ranging, reflecting the varied performances they give throughout the year. In the Summer Concert, for instance, the Choir sings secular and popular arrangements while at other times they will prepare the great Anglican anthems and settings of the Magnificat. The choir undertakes an international concert tour every two years.
Choral Group is a non-auditioned group that spends the Autumn and Spring terms preparing for a joint concert with Eton held at the end of the Spring term each year. Usually, the programme consists of one major work such as Verdi Requiem, Elgar The Dream of Gerontius, Handel Messiah, Bach St John Passion. This is an extremely valuable opportunity for the girls to be part of a very special performance, with soloists and orchestra, and to experience singing within the richness of a full SATB texture.
Chancel Choir is for girls in LIV upwards who want to gain experience of choral singing and build up some of the skills required for membership of Chapel Choir. The group takes part in the Carol Services, Remembrance and Confirmation Services, provides music for one Chapel service per term and top members are invited to join the Chapel Choir on international concert tours.
Phire is a Gospel Choir formed and run entirely by the girls. They prepare for and lead a Chapel service in the Spring term each year. The repertoire tends to come from the Gospel tradition, and competition for membership is fierce. The group benefits from annual coaching sessions with a Gospel specialist.
The whole UIII year group has a 40-minute singing session each week, during which the girls learn the fundamentals of singing as a choir, often in two or three parts. They prepare an anthem for a Junior House Service each term, as well as learning Christmas music for the UIII Entertainment and preparing songs for the UIII Concert for Parents in the Summer term.