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Supporting music through the ‘endangered instrument scheme’

Posted on: 07 Nov 2018
Posted by: Edward Roberts

Edward Roberts, assistant head at University College School Hampstead, discusses his school's ‘endangered instrument scheme’ which ensures children are given the opportunity to play a variety of 'at risk' instruments, that are waning in popularity.

"Music has long been exceptional" at University College School, Hampstead, commented The Good Schools Guide in its latest review. The high quality of provision in the music and drama departments was also recognised recently when the school was shortlisted at the Independent Schools of the Year 2018 in the Performing Arts category.


The music department works tirelessly to ensure there are limitless opportunities available to pupils of all musical backgrounds and interests, and for the last four years has been running an ‘endangered instrument scheme’. Pupils who wish to learn to play one of these instruments are offered a term of free lessons and free hire of the instrument. If the term is a success, the free tuition and hire is extended for a full year. Instruments considered ‘endangered’ at present include the french horn, trombone, tuba, oboe, bassoon and double bass. The scheme, which has a large take-up within the school, has a number of obvious benefits for both the pupils and the music department. Students have the opportunity to discover the joys of playing a fantastic musical instrument, and the school’s ensembles and orchestras are boosted by the increased variety of instruments included.


Most pupils join the senior school at UCS in Year 7 and the ‘endangered instrument scheme’ is frequently advertised to pupils in their regular, timetabled music lessons. Part of the department’s enrichment programme involves visiting music teachers demonstrating these instruments to pupils in lessons, and pupils are then asked to research and present on their favourite ‘endangered’ instrument. Pupils often see the scheme as an opportunity to extend their skills having already become proficient in a similar instrument. Bass guitar players find the transition to double bass to be seamless and recorder players easily adapt their skills to playing the oboe. Advanced pianists are attracted to the scheme because it enables them to broaden their involvement in the school’s ensembles and orchestras which therefore brings a social benefit.


Jordan, a Year 13 pupil, has loved being given the opportunity to learn the oboe, “The scheme gave me an incentive to try something I hadn’t previously considered. I could already play the piano but I was keen to try something new – especially with free lessons and the loan of an instrument for a year! I have progressed to grade 8 and it has been wonderful to be a part of UCS’s symphony orchestra.”


In 2016, former parents launched the annual Garcia Brass Masterclass in memory of Kenneth Durham, the former headmaster of UCS, which has the specific aim of encouraging pupils to learn to play ‘endangered’ brass instruments like the french horn, tuba and trombone. In 2017, the masterclass was delivered by the distinguished quintet, Fine Arts Brass, who demonstrated the wonders of all the brass instruments, and this year’s class was delivered by renowned horn player, Richard Watkins, whose demonstration of the Mozart Horn Concerto on the hosepipe had the Year 7 pupils in stitches of laughter. The hosepipe has not featured in any school concerts yet!


Recent results of the 'endangered instrument scheme' have been extremely encouraging. The number of trombonists in the school has grown from two to eight in the last three years and the junior wind band and the jazz groups have expanded to accommodate these players. These groups have certainly revelled in the extra depth and gravitas that this instrument brings to their concerts. The number of oboists at UCS has increased from two to six and the bassoon section has benefitted from a similar increase. These players have joined the 60 piece concert band and the UCS Symphony Orchestra.


To find out more regarding music at UCS and the school’s music scholarship programme, please see www.ucs.org.uk

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About Edward Roberts

Edward Roberts is assistant head at University College School Hampstead.