On a dreary October day, I left the academic library and ventured to the Vaughn Williams Auditorium (VWA) in JAGS’ Community Music Centre. I remained at school until 7 pm to attend the annual Autumn Concert. It was my first time going, but I had high hopes there would be some fantastic music. Upon arrival, audience members could scan a QR code for an online copy of the programme for the evening. Reading it on my phone, I was surprised by the vast amount of pieces lined up. I sat waiting alone in excited anticipation.


First up was Symphonic Wind Orchestra, who played two pieces providing a superb opening to this year’s Autumn Concert. The opening number was Dance of the Comedians by Bedřich Smetana. This was a jovial tune and the clarinets played fast, intricate melodies with ease. The flutes had a beautiful, crystal-clear tone, which really stood out to me when listening. This piece was followed by Tico Tico by Zequinha de Abreu, a jazzy piece from Latin America. This piece added a fresh flavour and contrast to the other pieces played, many of which were baroque, classical and romantic. There was a strong performance from the brass section here, and a clapping sequence in the middle made the piece dynamic and fun. 


Next was Chorale, the choir for girls in Year 8 and Year 9. This group performed a fun, fresh rendition of Pharrell Williams’ Happy, a world No.1 hit from 2014. The sopranos shone in this song. Chorale also performed Always Near, Never Far: an original song composed by one of our very own music teachers. The girls who sang the lower harmony part had incredibly rich, warm vocals that greatly enhanced the song. The rising stars of the Year 7 choir, Bel Canto, performed later, beginning with Music on the Waters. As the pianist began to play, 60 eager faces sang up at the audience with tremendous confidence considering these choristers were only 11 and 12 years of age. Advanced melodies were sung with clarity. The girls of Bel Canto moved on to perform Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. The lyrics were well enunciated and airy high notes floated above the audience. Aided by the jazzy piano baseline, the girls sang with a steady rhythm and strong voices. 


The Madrigalists, JAGS' senior choir, began with Two Alleluias, which featured a round masterfully sung and the most sublime harmonies. This was followed by When I First Saw Thee. The choir sang impossibly high notes with such volume, sustained throughout and ended in a wonderful low harmony. This sort of singing has such a relaxing quality, which was calming, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but notice all the little details making it all the more pleasant to listen to. String Orchestra performed afterwards, playing Serenade by Josef Suk. Cellos began with delicate pizzicato followed by long graceful deep notes supplementing violins with a mysterious sound. There was a masterful use of vibrato by all, but cellos and basses stood out to me in this piece. Next was Hoe-Down from Rodeo by Aaron Copland, a jolly Western tune. The violins and violas played intricate western melodies with sure bow strokes. Unaware of the fact that the piece was, in fact, not finished, people clapped during a short moment of silence which made for a humorous moment between conductor and audience.


Concert Orchestra were up next, and their standout performance was a collection of songs sure to get the audience tapping their feet on impulse. A medley of ABBA hits began with Money, Money, Money, and the percussion added a fun, funky beat behind the army of violins and violas. Two flautists played a duet with a wonderful crisp tone. Even a few members of the teaching faculty were present in the orchestra, a real testament to the thriving sense of community at JAGS. Afterwards came Thank You For The Music. There was something beautifully ironic about playing this song at a concert considering its subject matter. Hearing the wonderful music and struggling not to sing along, I was filled with a deep appreciation for the time and effort dedicated by music students and staff. The not-so-aptly named Big Band, comprising only a few members, made their way onto the stage next to perform Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island. The percussionists played syncopated rhythms in such a suave manner, and the brass had a wonderful sound. A round of solos from the trumpets, trombones and saxophones provided an opportunity to hear these musicians play independently, and they performed so well. Perfect rhythm, incredible volume and immense amounts of swagger from Big Band.


The stars of the show, Symphony Orchestra, took to the stage. They started with a formidable couple of Tchaikovsky pieces: Scene and Valse from Swan Lake. Harps made their first appearance of the evening, producing the most beautiful, majestic notes. Then there was the famous opening melody, played wonderfully on the oboe. Catching up after the concert, oboist Myfanwy Meeran told me that “Playing the oboe solo at the start of Swan Lake was a highlight for me — it’s such a famous and beautiful tune that you can put all your heart into playing and I will always remember having that wonderful opportunity”. It was a breathtaking piece so skilfully played. Speaking to some friends from the orchestra after the concert, many felt as though things hadn’t gone to plan, but not a foot was put wrong. Violins and violas played gracefully and managed to avoid sounding reedy at all. Strings played rapid ascending and descending scales without erring even once. There was a sweet little piccolo solo which I wholly enjoyed. Of course, the omnipresent percussionists were invaluable in this piece. The rumbling timpani and cymbals had a strong presence throughout the piece, complementing the tuned instruments wonderfully and the triangle was played masterfully at great speed, giving the piece a lovely tinkle. 


Swan Lake was followed by the 1st movement from Symphony No. 104 by Joseph Haydn. Violins passionately played a solemn melody to begin, and when the wind section joined after the strings opened, the orchestra played together with such surety. The musicians applied dynamics wonderfully, and the changing volume really brought the piece together. Masters in subtlety, the JAGS Symphony Orchestra just get it right every time. Myfanwy pointed out that the concert’s “less formal setting in the VWA means everyone is keen to perform some fun repertoire like the brilliant ABBA medley in Concert Orchestra and Happy by Chorale. It’s a chance to hear a whole variety of groups from Bel Canto to Big Band". There are far too many tiny details to list, but they all brought the concert together perfectly, and I left having enjoyed a marvellous night of music and community spirit.