Music is offered at the Preparatory school on two levels: as an extra-mural activity, with individual lessons and participation possible in a wide variety of ensembles, and as a formal subject. Concerts are held for each year group every term where boys perform for their peers and parents.
At a formal academic level, it is recognised that not all boys have the same focus on instrumental and/or choral music. In order to encourage a balance between these activities, weighted coursework is possible. It is widely acknowledged by international researchers that instrumentalists who are also singers become better instrumentalists in terms of sight-reading, pitching and phrasing. Singers who begin playing an instrument tend to learn much more quickly than a novice with no singing background. With this in mind, we have developed a programme to encourage singers to play an instrument and instrumentalists to sing in the choir.
Presently, music as an activity takes place on many different levels: instrumentalists may learn to play an instrument and play in an ensemble; choristers may sing in the Senior Choir and specialise in the smaller Schola Cantorum.
Boys may opt for the Music as a subject course, which is offered during class music in Lower III and Upper III. The curriculum entails Music Theory Grade 1 for Lower III and Grade 2 for Upper III. Ear training forms an integrated aspect of the music course. Computer-based theory programmes are also used to enhance theoretical skills. Practical work is assessed on a formal basis during termly concerts. Boys in instrumental ensembles are assessed by teachers in charge of those ensembles; boys in the Senior Choir and Schola Cantorum are assessed during the term by the Choir Master.
Lower III and Upper III boys are eligible for Music Colours. Boys who take the Music as a subject have very clear criteria set out in order to be awarded Colours.
The Jolly Choir
All boys from Upper I and Lower II are given the opportunity to audition for the Jolly Choir at the beginning of the academic year.
The choir members are introduced to Western and African music with the use of good vocal technique and music reading skills. Hopefully they will all graduate from the Jolly Choir to the Senior Choir, where they will be introduced to more demanding and challenging works.
The Jolly Choir provides items during the Prep assembly and leads the singing in the chapel during the Prep Mass on a Thursday. During the Michaelmas Term, the choir performs at the choir festival “Let the Children Sing”, which is organised by St John’s Preparatory School, and involves several school choirs over three evenings. Towards the end of the evening, they participate in the mass choir with a guest conductor. The Jolly Choir also participates annually in the combined carol service with the College, held at St Mary’s Cathedral at the beginning of November.
The Senior Choir
The Preparatory School Senior Choir consists of about 35 boys, ranging from Upper II to Upper III. These boys rehearse during the normal school day, and combine with the College Choir to provide the treble line in more advanced four-part music. They lead the singing at the weekly Prep Mass every Thursday, and also sing an anthem with the College Choir at their mass on a Wednesday. Apart from the weekly singing, the Senior Choir joins the College Choir in the singing of major choral works such as Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s St John Passion. A small group from this ensemble forms the Schola Cantorum which performs a more demanding repertoire with the College Choir.
The Prep Jazz Band
This foundational ensemble has been established for Lower III and Upper III boys to provide a natural feeder for the College Wind and Jazz Bands. The ensemble consists of a rhythm section and frontline brass and reed players. This year the ensemble is directed by Christiaan Rabie and is overseen by Nick Carter, head of Contemporary Music.
The ensemble plays at assemblies, at Prize Giving and other functions where the aim is to enjoy music and to develop a good performance ethos.
The String Ensembles
The String Programme at St John’s has 90 boys taking individual lessons and participating in the various ensembles, including three string ensembles. It is an essential part of a string player’s education to learn how to play in an orchestra. The Vigoroso Orchestra consists of only U1 learners and has performed with success at various functions. The Junior and Senior Prep Ensembles have a tradition of performing at various functions both inside and outside the school. The ensemble players are entered for ensemble examinations, and individual members are entered for Associated Board and Trinity Examinations. Several of the senior players regularly join the College String Ensemble, and some of them are members of the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra.
A group of very enthusiastic boys get together on a regular basis to form the Junior and Senior Marimba Bands. These boys play popular African works, and enjoy performing at the Prep assembly.
The Recorder Ensemble
Our recorder pupils perform in an ensemble using descant, treble and tenor recorders, with the inclusion of a double bass player. The ensemble performs at the termly instrumental concerts and is also interested in entering the Trinity College Ensemble Examination. A selection of Baroque, modern and African pieces are included for examination purposes.
Dr Ben Oosthuizen
Director of Music