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Music

We aim to raise the best musicians to a very high standard, whilst also involving every boy in enjoyable musical activity.

Over half of our pupils learn an instrument, and there are normally more than 60 Music Scholars at Harrow at any one time. We offer tuition in all orchestral instruments, as well as the piano, organ, guitar, bagpipes and singing, and prepare boys for practical examinations with the Associated Board and advanced diplomas such as the LTCL, DipABRSM and ARCO. Most musicians are involved in ensemble work through choirs, bands and orchestras; there are more than 80 concerts and productions each year, with many solo performance opportunities.

Harrow's Music Schools have specialist teaching and practice rooms, as well as a Concert Hall for chamber music. We regularly perform in a number of other buildings on the estate, including Speech Room, Chapel, the Ryan Theatre and the Vaughan Library. The School has two major pipe organs (a three-manual Walker organ in Chapel and a four-manual Harrison organ in Speech Room), several grand pianos (including a Steinway D, two Steinway As and a Fazioli), and a harpsichord. There are two recording studios and, for academic teaching, a suite of 25 computers and midi keyboards with notation and sequencing software.

Unique to Harrow is its famous Song Book, containing over 50 Harrow Songs that former or present Masters wrote specially for the School. These Songs are an important part of Harrow life and are sung by the whole School at end-of-term concerts, at House and Old Harrovian events, as well as once a year in Speech Room and every five years in the Royal Albert Hall.

Many of our music teachers are professors at conservatoires and play with London’s top orchestras. In addition to their regular teaching, luminaries such as Superbrass, Angela Hewitt, the Chilingirian Quartet, Freddy Kempf and Acoustic Triangle often offer the boys ad-hoc masterclasses.

choirs at harrow

Byron Consort is Harrow’s elite vocal ensemble, consisting of around 16 Harrow boys and four adults. The choir sings unaccompanied sacred and secular music, most of which comes from the Renaissance, Romantic and Modern periods. Many of the boys are ex-choristers from leading cathedral and collegiate choirs. Since its inception, the choir has sung regularly at Harrow, as well as at St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, various college chapels in Oxford and Cambridge, and many other London churches. The choir regularly tours abroad to locations including Malta and Gozo, Rome, Venice, Florence, Vienna, Salzburg, Stockholm and Russia. Their repetoire includes works by Bridge, Bruckner, Byrd, Casals, Des Prez, Duruflé, Gabrieli, Gibbons, Gorecki, Holst, Lauridsen, Lotti, Marenzio, Messiaen, Naylor, Palestrina, Pearsall, Poulenc, Purcell, Rachmaninov, Rheinberger, Sullivan, Tallis, Tye, Tavener, Villette, and Walton. Listen to a recording here.

Chamber Choir is drawn from the body of the Chapel Choir and numbers about 35 boys, plus some sopranos and adult singers. It is primarily a concert choir. It has toured the Czech Republic, Germany and Hong Kong. Their repertoire includes works by Bach, W. Schumann, Tippett, Howells, Greene, Mozart, Vaughan Williams, Part, Handel and Vivaldi. Listen to a recording here.

Chapel Choir is one of the largest ensembles to rehearse and perform regularly throughout the year. It currently numbers more than 60 boys and provides music for at least one service each Sunday during term time as well as for special services and concerts. All new boys are voice-tested upon entering Harrow, and the treble line mainly comprises new Shell boys. Their repertoire includes works by Poulenc, Chilcott, Saleeb, Piccolo, Byrd, Gombert, Faure, Berkeley, Howells, Faure, Haydn, Dyson, Bach, Jackson, Walton, Britten, Duruflé, Poulenc, Adelman, Mozart, Handel and Purcell.

Choral Society comes together in the Spring term to rehearse and perform large-scale choral works with orchestra and professional soloists. Every year, about 150 boys sing alongside parents and members of the community. Senior instrumentalists find themselves in the orchestra, so nearly a quarter of the School performs. Their repertoire includes works by Bach, Walton, Orff, Poulenc, Brahms, Bernstein, Handel, Elgar, Haydn, Verdi and Vaughan Williams. 

Harmony Choir sings in up to five parts with the alto line taken by countertenors as well as unbroken voices. The Choir numbers some 50 members from all year groups. It meets twice weekly and sings for Anglican Eucharist, Morning Prayer and whole School services, as well as Catholic Mass. The Choir also makes a valuable contribution to the Remembrance and Carol services. Recruitment for the Choir is done through auditioning every new boy to the School. Many continue in the Choir right through to the Sixth Form. Their repertoire includes works by Tallis, Macpherson, Bach and Francis Jackson.

ensembles at harrow

Big Band has an extensive repertoire, covering all the greats from Ellington and Basie to Miller and Dorsey, as well as Latin, rock and modern arrangements. The line-up is that of a typical big band, with saxophones, trombones, trumpets and rhythm section. With at least one major concert each term, the Band prepares around 40 titles per year. 

Chamber Music is a major feature at Harrow and a large number of boys benefit from it. We usually have around eight chamber groups including two piano trios, two baroque ensembles, a string quartet, a piano quintet, a violin quartet and a cello quartet. Every year, the School submits around four ensembles to the National Chamber Music Competition for Schools. In every year since 2000, at least one has won through to the finals at St John Smith's Square. Harrow also co-founded The South East Schools' Chamber Music Competition in 2011, in which 60 ensembles participate. Within the School, around 12 groups compete each year in the Smouha Chamber Music Competition, while luminaries such as Angela Hewitt, the Chilingirian Quartet, Freddy Kempf and Acoustic Triangle often give masterclasses. Our Chamber music repertoire includes works by Haydn, Beethoven, Suk, Dvorak, Saint-Saens, Bridge, Faure, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Mahler, Elgar, Schumann, Borodin and Tchaikovsky.

Concert Band consists of about 80 boys who have attained Grade 5 or above on instruments ranging from the piccolo to the tuba and the triangle to the timpani. The Band performs in a major concert each term and also provides the musical entertainment for Town Carols and Speech Day. The repertoire is typical of a modern wind band with music from stage and screen, as well as more traditional military music usually associated with a marching band.

Harrow School Pipe Band practise in the Alex Fitch Room in the War Memorial Building. Standards vary from complete beginners to those playing marches, reels, jigs and hornpipes at a very high standard. Highlight performances include Remembrance Sunday and Speech Day. There are various opportunities for solo pipers to perform at House events and outside engagements.

Jazz Ensemble provides an opportunity for boys to work in a small group and concentrate on improvisation. The group consists of a rhythm section with a flexible front line of melodic instruments. The Ensemble is a place for boys to be musically creative and explore jazz. It performs throughout the year and is popular at events that need a certain ambience. Their recent repertoire includes works by Calderazzo, Gershwin, Zawinul and Coltrane.

Junior Brass Ensemble has a flexible line up. As well as being a performing ensemble in its own right, it is a training ground for younger boys who will move up to the senior group. 

Kandinsky Ensemble, named after the Russian abstract painter, specialises in large scale chamber music from the early 20th century to the present day. It is a flexible ensemble in terms of personnel, dependent on the work being performed. Their repertoire includes works by Glass, Gershwin, Bernstein, Arnold, Ives, Poulenc, Ravel, Martland, Martinu, Steve Reich and Copland.

Rock and pop thrives at Harrow, with a number of bands rehearsing regularly. There is at least one rock concert every term, as well as 'battle of the bands' competitions at other schools. The Mortimer Singer Prize is a competition with two classes, one for solo singers accompanying themselves on acoustic guitar, and another for rock bands. This competition is adjudicated by a visiting musician and, in recent years, these have included Mike d'Abo (OH) of Manfred Mann and Graham Gouldman from 10cc.

Senior Brass Ensemble is a traditional five piece brass group for more advanced players. It performs music made famous by the acclaimed Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the Canadian Brass Quintet. 

String Orchestra is our second orchestra and tends to incorporate string players who are not involved in any other ensemble music. It consists of 14 boys who are at Grade 3 to 5 standards. Their repertoire includes works by Vivaldi, Handel, Sibelius and Bizet.

Symphony Orchestra is Harrow’s largest orchestra and consists of about 70 boys. The string players are all of at least Grade 6 standard and the woodwind and brass members are usually of Grade 8 standard. The Orchestra performs in three concerts each year and also accompanies Churchill Songs and Speech Day Songs. Once a year, the Orchestra joins forces with The John Lyon School for a Commemoration Concert and the senior players form the nucleus of Harrow School Sinfonietta for an annual Concerto Evening. In November 2012, the Orchestra accompanied the singing of Churchill Songs at the Royal Albert Hall in front of an audience of 5,500. Their repertoire includes works by Rossini, Elgar, Wagner, Brahms, Britten, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bizet, Walton, Liszt, Franck, Shostakovich, Verdi, Sibelius, Rimsky-Korsakov, Arnold, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Suk, Schubert, Saint-Saens and Berlioz.

The Nine is Harrow’s advanced string orchestra which at present consists of 22 players, all of whom are music award holders. The name of this ensemble harks back to its conception, when there were only nine members. It has certainly grown and all members are at least of Grade 7 standard. Their repertoire includes works by Mendelssohn, Rossini, Dvorak, Janacek, Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Britten.

Wind Ensemble develops the chamber music skills of woodwind and brass players. It varies in size from a sextet to an ensemble of 12 or more, dependent on the work being performed.