New horizons

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Music is as central to school life here as it is in any school other than specialist music schools.  How brilliant then to have such an enjoyable and vibrant first major school concert under our new Director of Music, Doug McIlwraith?  We were treated to a new range of ensembles and a welcome breadth of pieces: cello, woodwind, brass and percussion ensembles accompanied the traditional Concert Band and School Orchestra (Sousa Marches and Water Music).  Barbershop and School Choir, embraced Asika Thali (traditional Zulu High-Life Song) and De Animals A-comin’ (Negro Spiritual), whilst the Chamber Choir  thrived on the customary and majestic sacred music of MacMillan (O Radiant Down) and Purcell (Thou Knowest Lord). The Jazz Band, formed just this term, capped the evening.  Enjoyment in music making and in creating pieces that the audience would relish were palpable.  Hats off to Doug, his colleagues and our young musicians.

Mortar boards off to two teachers, one current one past, who will be moving on to new horizons.  Congratulations to Nick Robinson, Dunhurst Deputy Head, who will be taking up the reins as Headmaster of the Preparatory School at West Buckland School.  We will miss Nick when he moves to his new post in April but it is healthy and good for all when talented colleagues gain promotion and new challenges.

Former Bedales Deputy Head, Leo Winkley, now Headmaster of St Peter’s, York, will be moving in September to become Headmaster of Shrewsbury School, nursery of talents as various as Darwin and the founders of Private Eye.  As well as being a wonderful contributor to the school in his leadership role, he was also the architect of the much admired Philosophy, Religion and Ethics BAC.  Congratulations to Leo on his new role.


Beethoven in the mix


“Never dull”, that handy police recruiting slogan of yesteryear, is a good adage for life here; never entirely predictable and often student-generated would be a fair addition, given this week’s variety of cultural offerings. With the Cecilia Concert as the week’s kingpin, high culture with necessary teacher direction is in the ascendant for sure, with Beethoven, Nick Gleed and the First Orchestra to the fore – The Pastoral (5th movement of Symphony No 6) was performed with confidence, following on from Keir Rowe’s Concert Band’s colourful rendition of Jacob’s Suite in B-flat; for me, both bring with them the customary surprise (which I still find surprising although I should have become used to it by now): that large groups of young people can bring such shape, beauty and delight from dots on a page. Here comes the additional, uncustomary surprise: the next piece is 8 cellists – yes, The Cello Ensemble, a new thing, a semi-circle of cellists with Assistant Director of Music (and, yes, cellist) Will Lithgow in its half-moon midst – and they are playing Beethoven’s Funeral March (2nd movement of Symphony No 7) without any external direction. Watching and listening I have a sense of music emerging from this profusion of cellists that have congregated and that work so cohesively, without apparent external mastery.

The cultural contrast with how the week begun and how it will end are instructive: Monday’s assembly brought a student-led rendition of that great British eccentricity Just a Minute, with combined student and staff teams. Its leader, Alex Y was suitably enough, singing a Purcell song on Wednesday. In what cultural corner does Just a Minute sit? Higher than you think might be the verdict after seeing some famously fluent people struggle. Maybe they were intimidated by the fluency and beauty of Min Y’s playing of Beethoven’s Pathetique which preceded it, or by the fact that OB Gyles Brandreth is arguably its most brilliant exponent.

So, plenty of surprises and variety so far and plenty that challenges the cultural span. What is sure and has elements of predictability is that the week will definitely end with something that is both student generated and not high culture – a whole school dance with a disco theme.

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Uplifting concert from new generation of musicians at Bedales

Our tradition of classical music is hard won and easily lost. Having had an extraordinary group of talented and devoted musicians in last year’s 6.2, there was an understandably slightly apprehensive approach to the big first concert of the school year, the Cecilia; so it was not only with the soulful final trio of Brahms (Geistliches Lied), Kodaly (Agnus Dei) and Mendelssohm (As the Hart Pants) reverberating in my mind as I left the Quad last night, but also with an uplifting sense that our new generation of musicians has arrived – Lottie G at first violin and so many talented Block 3s and 4s also to the fore. Important to remember too that so many of these students, singers in particular, are hard at work on Cabaret as well. So, a big well done to all – and to Nick Gleed, Keir Rowe, Will Lithgow and James Thomas who inspire, cajole and work so hard to conjure up such a wonderful concert as last night’s. Good to see also the interpreter, Erika, from the Tuscan tour welcomed and celebrated: last time I saw her was when she was translating Nick Gleed’s colourful and involved preamble to the concert in the Arezzo duomo from Nick’s English into her Italian – managed with aplomb.