Named after one of Gresham’s most famous former pupils, the Britten Music Course was founded in 2011 with the aim of providing a high quality musical experience for talented musicians aged between 8 and 13 years. Over the last seven years, the course has grown, attracting children from across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. Repertoire over that time has included Vivaldi Gloria, Tippett Five Negro Spirituals, Britten Rejoice in the Lamb, the world premiere of Patrick Hawes Eventide: in memoriam Edith Cavell in Norwich Cathedral, Will Todd Mass in Blue with the composer, and Tallis’ forty-part motet Spem in alium. Course participants have performed with the English Chamber Orchestra, the European Union Chamber Orchestra, and soloists from the Monteverdi Choir and The Sixteen.
This year, we welcomed 39 children from the UK and abroad for an action-packed week of music making and activities. On day one, we started in earnest and by bedtime had managed an instrumental and choral workshop and a delicious BBQ. The following two days were spent in the Britten Building at the Senior School in choral and instrumental rehearsals and the results after such a short time were quite astounding. The first concert was a soloists concert and the children thrilled us with a diverse programme of music performed on a range of instruments including cello, flute, tuba, cornet, violin, viola, guitar, piano, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, recorder and voice. The second concert, the ensembles concert, the following evening, showcased the talents of the children further and included The Pears Vocal Ensemble singing Over the Rainbow, The Berkeley String Orchestra performing movements 1 and 3 of Brown’s String Quartet No.3 as well as vocal trios, piano duets and trios. The highlight of the evening had to be the finale when The Red House Orchestra performed Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March.
On Friday we travelled by mini bus to Snape Maltings, Benjamin Britten’s famous concert hall in Suffolk. After a tour of this iconic centre for music the children were given permission to perform on the stage. Stepping in the footsteps of some of the world’s most acclaimed musicians, they sang Britten’s Abraham Brown, Ship of Rio and Ride-by-Nights. Two lucky course members had also been chosen to play the trombone and recorder.
Lunch was delicious fish and chips on the beach at Aldeburgh and a chance to run around (and not get feet wet in the sea!) and the obligatory photograph by Maggi Hambling’s shell sculpture which is a tribute to Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.
The fun didn’t stop there. Thorpeness is a very picturesque village near Aldeburgh, the centre of which is taken up with a large Meare. Britten wrote music specifically to be performed on the boating lake and while we didn’t re-enact this, we all took to rowing boats and enjoyed a fun hour rowing from island to island all of which are Peter Pan themed. In true music course fashion, there was much singing (not to mention splashing of oars!) as the boats raced each other from island to island, trying to avoid very stubborn and extremely tame swans who followed us.
On Saturday and Sunday the course was joined by 75 adults who had signed up to sing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. With the help of soloists from the country’s top choirs and vocal ensembles, the weekend was spent learning this extraordinary choral work which was performed to a large and very appreciative audience on Sunday afternoon in the School Chapel, accompanied by double piano and an extensive percussion section. It was a fitting end to what had been a wonderful week of music-making, making friends and for many new experiences. The Britten Music Course will return in Summer 2018 to do it all again!