The department has two full time members of staff: Mrs Helen Chong (Head of Department) and Mr Dan Armstrong. We are supported by Mrs Jane Watts (who is an ABRSM Examiner) who teaches at AS and A Level and helps to run our broad extra-curricular programme and by Mrs Joanne Newman who is our administrative assistant. We currently have 12 highly qualified peripatetic instrumental and vocal teachers.
We have two main teaching classrooms. The first teaching room has 5 practice rooms attached and this is where the main focus is on acoustic music-making. The other large teaching space houses a suite of 15 student PCs running current Sibelius, Cubase and Mixcraft software. We foster a lively, collaborative and informative environment where the students can engage fully and creatively in the power of music.
The music department is a thriving and constantly active part of Balcarras School. Our curriculum is inclusive and aimed at developing knowledge and skills for all. Within this framework, pupils feel secure and enabled to develop at their own rate. We use a wide variety of teaching methods and resources, ensuring that students are exposed to a wide variety of styles and genres of music. We offer a breadth of strong extra-curricular groups, open to all ages and abilities. All of our staff have a commitment to excellence and a passion for the subject and actively foster an environment which encourages students to develop a love music of all types.
Key Stage 3
We offer a strong and recently revised KS3 curriculum, where all pupils have access to our outstanding resources. Pupils experience topics from Music and Media to Indonesian Gamelan during Year 7, and will gain skills on the piano keyboard and with music software. Pupils are encouraged to use conventional notation as well as graphic scores to notate their compositions and to perform from. In Year 8 pupils study the history of Western Classical Music and of the Blues and explore music from India and Latin America. Year 9 provides an opportunity for students to develop their performance skills during the ‘Live Lounge’ extended project, for which students produce a performance of a piece of their choice in an ensemble and present research to the class. Throughout Year 9, pupils continue to develop skills in performing and composition using live instruments and on our computer technology programmes. Students study a wide variety of styles, genres and traditions including Minimalism, Jazz and Popular Music.
Students are given a practical level at the end of each topic in addition to a listening test where they are encouraged to use key terms to describe musical excerpts. This balance of practical and academic skill is similar to GCSE music, which allows pupils, staff and parents to understand how skills and knowledge are transferred across the key stages.
Key Stage 4
The syllabus we follow for GCSE music is the EDUQAS syllabus. Topics covered include Western Classical Music, Popular Music, World Music, Musical Theatre, Fusion and Music for Film. Students perform as soloists and as part of ensembles and compose music in a range of styles using live instruments and music technology.
Key Stage 5
At AS and A2 we also follow the EDUQAS syllabus. In recent years we have had a number of pupils go on to study music at University. Over the past five years pupils have studied Musical Theatre, Sound Technology, Music and Psychology and also secured places at prestigious UK Conservatoires. This year some of our students have aspirations to study Popular Music Performance and Production.
The school recognises the importance of pupils learning a musical instrument. We have appointed well qualified and experienced instrumental staff offering lessons on all brass, woodwind and string instruments as well as vocal, drum and guitar lessons. Many of our peripatetic staff are involved as specialists in our extra-curricular programme. At present we have around 150 pupils taking individual lessons.
Balcarras Music Department runs a very lively and wide-ranging extra-curricular programme. Pupils across all year groups are welcome to join our clubs. We have a main school choir and a chamber choir in addition to an all-boys choir. We have an orchestra, flute group, wind ensemble, string group and music theory club. For those students who are keen on Jazz and Pop styles we also have a soul band, jazz band and saxophone group. The department has seven practice rooms which all have access to keyboards and guitar amplifiers. The practice rooms are used by peripatetic staff but are also available for pupils to book during their lunchtimes for their own self-directed rehearsals.
In 2015 the school won some hub funding which enabled us to record a song under the directorship of a special vocal facilitator. This involved a number of pupils from the school and resulted in a widely-acclaimed music video, filmed at Postlip Barn. To see the film see here
There is a wide-ranging calendar of music events are held throughout the year. The Autumn term starts with the ever-popular House Music Festival, which is overseen by the Music Department and organised by members of the Sixth Form, who produce a concert of the musical talents within each House. An external adjudicator who is a professional musician is invited each year to listen to all the concerts and select a winning House according to set criteria. Competition is always fierce and in the past few years we have been lucky enough to have welcomed Dr Warwick Cole professional cellist and organist, Alan McLean, pianist and Suzanne Barnes, flautist and teacher as our adjudicators. Other adjudicators have included the vocal specialist and choral conductor Vicki Beauregard and also Pete Rosser, who is a composer, performer and examiner for the ABRSM. At the end of the Autumn term, there is a major school production and as well as a Carol Concert. Other musical events include concerts for particular year groups and our very popular and family-friendly Midsummer Music Festival.
The school production is a huge event where we work in tandem with the Drama department in staging a major theatrical event. In recent years, these have ranged from a production of The 39 Steps (with specially arranged orchestrations), to full-scale musicals such as Oklahoma!, Beauty and the Beast and, in December 2016, Grease! The production orchestra always features a wide range of students who demonstrate passion and commitment, many of whom go on to make music their profession or a large part of their adult lives. The show’s principals and chorus are also coached and rehearsed by the team from the music department.
Performances Further Afield
From time to time, there are opportunities to attend concerts and shows within Gloucestershire and further afield (for example, London, Bristol and Birmingham). We also had a special tour and concert at The Royal College of Music in November 2015.
Our Choirs have taken part in performances with the Cheltenham Philharmonic Orchestra at the Pittville Pump Room in 2015 and 2016 and there is another performance with them planned for 2017, this time at Cheltenham Town Hall.
The Chamber Choir, under Mrs Helen Moran, has had considerable success at the Regional and National Festivals of Music For Youth and they will also be performing at some special Gloucestershire Citizenship ceremonies in 2017
Even further afield, we have had very successful music tours to Barcelona (2014) and Verona in Italy (2013), where over 40 pupils performed in a number of ensembles putting on three concerts, including one right on the edge of Lake Garda with an audience of 250+.
The Balcarras Music Department is a thriving creative hub and welcomes all students at whatever stage of their musical journey, whether as part of the core curriculum, as an exam subject or as part of the rich tapestry of extra-curricular opportunities on offer here.