The start of the 2020-21 academic year saw rehearsals only possibly in greatly restricted circumstances and with the various age groups of the Schola not allowed to mix. This made for an interesting challenge to say the least and the full choir would not sing together at any point during the School year. This was difficult and especially so for the boys in the Upper Sixth who happened to be a particularly strong set of singers. Through some ingenuity we were able to keep the Schola going however and indeed through the wonders of technology some performances proved possible too.
The run-up to Christmas saw the Schola trebles sing Carols at the Dorchester on two occasions before a change in the Covid Level ruled it out and a few boys also sang some Carols at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, in the presence of Cardinal Vincent Nichols. This was to be our only live singing of the year with all other performing having to be done virtually.
The one event we could not go without was the Carol Service and so a plan was hatched to recreate the service on video. In Year Group bubbles the boys of the Schola, and the Brass, recorded their parts for the service and it was then filmed in Addison Hall. This was all cut together – it has been quite a year for learning new skills – and broadcast on YouTube at the time that the service would have been. The video was watched by around 800 people live – may of whom did so together on the same Zoom call - and has since been viewed nearly 7,000 times on YouTube. Reactions have come in from all around the world.
The trebles of the Schola also recorded a performance of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with harpist Zita Silva, shown on YouTube in the days before Christmas. One of the carols from the Carol Service, O Holy Night with First Form singer Daniel White as soloist, was picked up by Classic FM and it received over 100,000 views on their platform.
Christmas was followed by the January Lockdown of course and so we were back on Teams for rehearsals and lessons. During these weeks the Schola recorded at home performances of The Road Home by American composer Stephan Paulus which we put onto YouTube.
On our return to School in March it was very encouraging to see just how music had been learnt and we were able to pick things up where they had been quite well. During the Lent Term the Schola were asked by the Oxford Bach Soloists to take part in an online performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass and so the boys recorded on their phones at home videos of themselves singing sections of this piece which was then put together with performances from a number of leading Catholic choirs including Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir, the Choir of the London Oratory, the Choir of the Oxford Oratory and others. These videos were broadcast on YouTube in the weeks after Easter.
The Lent Term has for many years ended with services including a reading of the Passion and music from the choirs. These gatherings would not be possible under the restrictions and so again we called on the powers of technology and recreated the service, filming the readings and music across two days. The service was shown to the whole school in their Form Rooms on the final morning of the Lent Term and was very received by the pupils and staff alike. The opportunity was taken to record and film some other Lenten pieces at the same time and these were shown on YouTube in a service broadcast in Holy Week.
Making the most of the limitations we faced, the Schola trebles have made a new recording, a CD of Christmas music for boys voices and harp. This was recorded over three days in May and June and is due for release this coming Christmas. Much of the music sung on the CD was learnt over Teams and so the recording really is a product of the lockdowns. It is lovely that something so very positive has come from such a challenging time.
The Summer term saw professional theatres begin to reopen and we were delighted to be asked to provide the children for Opera Holland Park’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen. Nine Vaughan boys (and some sisters) sang in the opera, including playing the important solo roles of the Grass Hopper, the Cricket and the Frog! Performances run until the end of July.