Alongside the famous places of pilgrimage in British music – Malvern, Aldeburgh – we should really add a traffic-ringed corner of London SE22 which is the campus of James Allen’s Girls’ School. This is where both Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst taught early in the last century, and where their music is still accorded a place of honour in the school's daily life. A crowd of curious locals, including myself, turned up on Sunday for the opening of the school’s new Community Music Centre to which we’d been kindly invited.
I’ve visited quite a few Community Music locations in my time, often dark, window-less spaces which have been converted from something else. This by contrast is a magnificent, bright edifice housing a large, technically advanced concert room which will double as an alternative school hall, christened the Vaughan Williams Auditorium. (There is already a Holst Hall in the original school building.)
A very JAGS-intensive concert opened the Centre, involving over 150 players and singers, mostly current schoolgirls but also including local residents who regularly join in the school’s orchestras and choirs. Music by JAGS teachers Vaughan Williams, Holst and (present director) Peter Gritton was augmented with impressive orchestral work by recent school graduates Isabella Gellis and Rosa Juritz (now studying composition professionally at RAM and York University respectively). A current student, songwriter Esme Herbert, sang a beautiful folk-ish ballad to a rich string accompaniment. What a great advertisement this school is (whose general educational attainments are of course excellent) for putting music right at the forefront of what happens every day, rather than as a precious optional extra for a few people.