As we look forward to the opening of our new School Hall and Music School , we begin a series of articles exploring Music at Benenden both now and in the future. Here, Assistant Director of Music Jack Fitzgerald discusses what the new girls have been up to during this past academic year.
The Fourths started their musical life at Benenden in some of the most unusual and hopefully unique circumstances we have seen. The challenge facing us was providing activities that offer all the usual creative, social and emotional benefits of music making while not contravening Covid restrictions that outlawed all forms of singing, gathering together and the kind of year group mixing that routinely happens in our major orchestras and choirs.
Of course, Christmas was much scaled down in 2020 but the Fourths were able to provide some much-needed Christmas cheer, however improbably, by forming their own ukulele orchestra. After a term spent exploring chord progressions on these niftily scaled down plucked instruments the girls were ready for their debut performance. In a nod to Christmas Concerts gone by, the suitably seasonal, oak panelled backdrop of the Hemsted Entrance Hall was the setting, and Jingle Bells was the tune. Indeed, thanks to the trailblazing example set by this year’s Fourths we have now introduced an un-auditioned ukulele club open to all girls from September.
Much of the second term was inevitably spent online, and this gave us the opportunity to explore a range of previously untested online resources designed to enable musical collaboration. The girls were encouraged to work in groups and create their own songs. Support for their efforts came from two Sixth Form girls; Josie and Amelie who managed to set up and run a schoolwide song writing club, despite being based in different time zones for much of the year. All these efforts came to fruition in the summer term with a group of Fourths entering the Shamsi-Flintoff song writing showcase/competition for the first time in its four-year history.
So, to the Summer term and the gradual easing of restrictions. A new instrumental ensemble was launched in May aimed at giving all girls, regardless of grade level the experience of playing in an orchestra. The “Benenden Concert Orchestra” takes its repertoire from across the musical spectrum, from classical favourites like the Habanera from Carmen to modern pop like Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and Justin Timberlake’s Senorita.
With the return of girls in the exam years from September membership will build, and culminate in performances in the new School Hall, alongside the already well-established Symphony Orchestra. Similarly, the Lower School Chamber Choir was able to reform this term. With songs from Frozen, Moana and the new Mary Poppins their focus has been very much on re-establishing the joy created when young people gather to sing the music they love.