Friday, April 11, 2014

Why can't all Primary Schools have music like this one?

There can’t be many Primary Schools capable of putting on a Passion Play like the one I attended last night. Arriving at Our Lady of Victories Primary School in Kensington, London, one has an immediate sense of a truly Catholic institution. Housed in a well cared-for building with spotless corridors, immaculately behaved children and a pervading air of respect, there is a tangible Catholic ethos. The calm yet authoritative Head Teacher spoke beforehand of her pride in the children before asking us to refrain from applause at the end. On the walls of the hall were beautiful Stations of the Cross painted by the pupils, and as the children filed onto the stage in their wonderful costumes, there was a real sense of care in the preparation.

But it was the music which particularly caught my attention. As the story of the Passion unfolded, it was interspersed with hymns and choral music sung by the choir of children in Years 4-6 (ages 8-11). All of the music, which included contemporary settings as well as older ones, was beautifully sung, with a real sense of line and exquisite ensemble. Mrs Nicolaou, the Director of Music who had invited me, had chosen some singularly ambitious music, much of it dividing into several parts. She and the choir had clearly worked incredibly hard and the result was that the children, inevitably in such a supportive environment, rose to the challenge. Particularly impressive were Quando corpus morietur and the Amen from Pergolesi’s Stabat mater. This is not music one will often, if ever, hear in a Primary School and the power of good it will have done the children cannot adequately be put into words. Two extremely accomplished former pupils, now at the equally impressive Cardinal Vaughan School (where I was privileged to work for many years) returned to sing a Bach duet. It is no surprise that a school like this inspires such a sense of loyalty. Speaking to the Head Teacher, Mrs Sarah McBennett, afterwards, she told me that they are blessed with incredible parents who support the school. That is the sort of thing Head Teachers will often say, but there can be no doubt that this one says it truthfully.

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