• Happy New Term in the Larch!!

    Happy New Term in the Larch!

    Dear all.

    As we welcome the new term, we are preparing for much more exciting music making this year and the opportunity to see our musicians develop.

    Our Larch instrumental lessons start from Monday 13th September. We will email you full details later next week, of days and what and when things are happening. Year 6 will have lessons in the music centre and will be supported to walk over in time. We are finalising the huge logistical puzzle of our teaching! It is also on Monday 13th that Year 6 woodwind and brass musicians will join Junior Wind Band in the music centre after school. Again, full details will be emailed next week. Year 3 string players will join the Larch Orchestra in January.

    The Larch Orchestra and choirs start from Monday 20th September (ie, that week). This gives the students time to get back into routine and play their instruments again! It is the week of the 20th September that the Year 2 Strings Training Programme starts - the musical journey for these students begins! Cello will be on Thursday, Violin on Friday.

    As an overview:

    Junior Wind Band (Yr 6 wind and brass musicians) - Monday after school until 3.55pm starting on Monday 13th September

    Larch orchestra - Wednesday after school until 4pm starting on Wednesday 22nd September

    Larch choirs - Thursday after school until 4pm starting on Thursday 23rd September

    In advance of lessons starting, please can everyone go over a couple of pieces from last term if they have not done so already. Check everything in the instrument case is there and perform at home. We will be working hard this term to support you to support each musician - how to practice at home, what to do if there are challenges, how to celebrate progress. It is time to get back even more to the joy of learning and performing. We even hope to have several live concerts this term!

    https://www.simonballe.herts.sch.uk/music/in-the-larch/

    Please do take a moment to look at the Larch music section of the website. It has the dates, resources, support and information. It will also have the timetables ready for lessons to start. A Year 6 page will be published next week.

    Celebration of our music is on twitter - https://twitter.com/simonballemusic and the main school media channels.

    Please bear with us if there are teething issues. Just get in touch - direct all queries to music@simonballe.herts.sch.uk rather than the Larch reception.

    Learning an instrument is great fun. Yes, practice is essential, but if you build in the routines, ask for help when needed and celebrate success, amazing things will happen.

    Have a great musical year!

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music.

  • And so the end of term…

    Congratulations to all musicians for their achievements this year. We have held over 240 individual music exams. This is  an amazing achievement, showing perseverance and hard work through all the challenges. As part of this, seven Year 13 musicians have achieved a diploma at a standard of first or second year music college.To have this number of students taking these very challenging exams is unique in any school and we cannot underestimate the enormity of what has been achieved. Our senior musicians have also achieved 29 Grade 8s between them, most with a merit or distinction. In the Larch, 53 musicians took a music medal this year and several have achieved Grade 1 or 2. This again is a phenomenal achievement. Every exam result at every level is something to be so proud of and the numbers involved make us unique as a school. 

    Last weekend we were fortunate to have two outdoor concerts to celebrate what some of our musicians have achieved. Enabling the Concert Band and Big Band to perform allowed our brilliant Year 13 musicians to celebrate their achievements and say goodbye. Having this ‘final moment’ for them was so important and it was wonderful to see everyone there enjoying the amazing music. The recordings and pictures will be on the school website early next week for all to enjoy. The evenings were very emotional for so many, both musicians and families. All our musicians throughout the school are amazing, and it was wonderful to hear about how music is such an important part of their lives. 

    Team Music has triumphed this year and it has been wonderful to see and hear how families, musicians and the team in school have worked together, in person and online. The musical achievements that we have had have been wonderful to see and hear. Across all phases, music has kept going and we are so grateful for all the support. It is by working together that we have achieved what we have.

    Looking forward, we continue to adapt and ensure that our musical opportunities continue to grow.  I am delighted that so many young people are learning an instrument in the Larch, and that we have so many musicians across the school who want to be part of Team Music. Thank you to everyone in Team Music for coming together to create incredible music and wonderful memories. To those with us next year - concerts, performances and experiences will be back. Keep practising and see you then. To those leaving - thank you. Thank you for your support, thank you for your musicianship and thank you for the memories.

    https://www.simonballe.herts.sch.uk/music/

    https://twitter.com/simonballemusic

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music

  • What a musical year!

    What a musical year! Looking forward to the next one....

    Dear families.

    It is that time of the year when we look forward to celebrating what our Larch musicians have achieved as well as looking forward to September.

    Despite the lockdown earlier this year, our musicians have been amazing. It is fabulous to see and hear what they continue to achieve week after week. The rehearsals are going so well and it is lovely to hear about all the successes with exams and music medals. Some have been taking exams this week!

    Year 2 has done so well with the Strings Training Programme. Hearing some of them last week I was reminded how much progress they have made. We will be recording their celebration in a couple of weeks and sharing this with families. This work is the foundation of instrumental learning, preparing students to continue with the violin and cello or move on and take up a different instrument. Hearing all the instrumentalists in the other years has been a joy, both in small groups and in the orchestra. The choirs too are singing so well and with such enthusiasm.

    Looking to next year, we will shortly be reminding year groups of which instruments they can learn at Simon Balle. The current Year 2 will be introduced to the flute and clarinet and the current Years 3, 4 and 5 to other wind instruments as well as brass. We have not been able to do this live for a while, so we are excited to let pupils hear everything in person. I really hope that pupils will continue on their musical journey as so much has already been achieved. Also looking to September, Year 6 wind and brass musicians will progress to be part of Junior Wind Band on a Monday after school until 4pm. They have been so important in the orchestra and they will now be working with older musicians, taking their music to the next level. Year 6 string players will continue in the Larch Orchestra on a Wednesday for now, so that they can support the younger musicians and help create that rich string sound.

    To summarise:

    In September, the Larch Orchestra will consist of:

    • Years 4, 5 and 6 string players
    • Years 4 and 5 woodwind players
    • Year 5 brass players

    Year 6 woodwind and brass players will be part of the Junior Wind Band on a Monday until 4pm. If it clashes with team sports in the Autumn term they will do each activity on alternate weeks!

    Year 3 Strings will join the orchestra later in the year.

    Well done to everyone for their hard work and perseverance this year. We have an amazing musical future ahead of us. As Team music develops and more opportunities are created, the sky really is the limit on what can be achieved.

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music

  • Blog – It has been a long time!

    Dear all.

    Everyone in Team Music hopes you are well.

    It has been a long time since we were able to make live music in school. I am full of admiration for how our musicians have survived the past few months, and how our teachers have continued to inspire, even if through a computer screen. It has been hard for so many and it is clear that we are all missing being together, rehearsing and performing as we used to do! Thank you for your support and help, maintaining morale as much as you have been able to do.

    Unfortunately we are not yet able to rehearse in school mixing year group bubbles. I am hoping that when we progress through the 4 ‘stages’ out of the pandemic, we will be able to once again get together. We are looking at how we can rehearse outdoors, but most importantly perform. With so much music waiting in the wings, we have everything crossed for a very musical summer in as many venues and situations as possible! Every creative idea is on the table, and if you can help with these aims, or have ideas, please please get in touch. COVID has taught us to be very creative and we will need to continue to do this. If you have connections with a company that can help, again please get in touch.

    It has been brilliant to hear our instrumental team reporting that so many musicians have been making amazing progress despite the online lessons. We are working and planning for exams and other celebrations to bring back the buzz of being together, showing how great our musicians are. We know that we will need to support each musician to regain those live skills that have ‘rested’ in the past few months and your help re-establishing the routines with practice after school at home will be invaluable. Nagging, checking, supporting, praising will be so important. Many students will take exams to celebrate achievements and will need a nudge once again with that extra push.

    Live music will be back soon. It is such an important part of our school and we want our musicians to be ready on the starting blocks for the ‘off’ as soon as we can. One thing I can promise – it will be worth the wait! I trust there will be a broad smile on your faces when you hear the music once again.

    Do stay in touch.

    Kind regards

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music.

  • Larch Musicians
    We are so proud of our Larch musicians who today received their copper or bronze Associated Board of the Royal School of Music awards. This shows their commitment and musicality! Keep practising Larch musicians - what achievements!
  • Developing our instrumental offering in the Larch, including the piano

    We recently introduced piano lessons as part of our music offering in the Larch and as we thought this was met with an overwhelming response. Knowing that we could not offer everyone who wanted piano lessons the opportunity to learn, it made us consider how to take this forward.

    Our musical ethos at Simon Balle is of creating lifelong musicians - musicians who want to take their passion for music with them for the rest of their lives. As part of this it is about learning how to work together, with others, in ensembles and teams. How to practice, how to read music, how to listen, how to celebrate music. We have prioritised orchestral instruments for these very reasons, so that more students can benefit from the joy and excitement of making music with others for years to come both in our orchestra, and group lessons. Some might pause and return on this journey, others will continue and excel to the highest standards. We also insist that students can practice, at least 3 times a week.

    Piano is different. It is not an ensemble instrument to start with for quite a while. Not everyone has a piano at home either. This made us question what our ethos is with learning the piano.

    Piano is an instrument to develop coordination skills and how to read treble and bass clef. It is an instrument that someone learns on their own for such a long time before being able to work with others. We have taken the decision after many discussions that for us piano should be an instrument that someone learns as well as learning an orchestral instrument, so that they are developing their whole musicianship. Piano lessons include music theory work as well, again working more on musicianship. What is so important is that our pianists feel part of team music and what we offer - working together with others, not in isolation. Therefore, we chose musicians who already learnt an instrument to start working with us as we introduced the piano to our work.

    Of course we want pianists - pianists who love music music and are a massive part of Team Music. However, at the moment we simply cannot accommodate everyone to do everything - especially on the piano. Space and teacher availability also come into the mix. When all these competing challenges come together, we have to have reasons for our decisions.

    We have a waiting list for piano lessons and of course that is not ideal. As I said at the start, our ethos is based on team working, ensembles and not working in isolation. There are many ways to get involved in Team Music and we will work to develop our piano offering as fast as we can, ensuring is accompanies learning an orchestral instrument.

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music

  • September 2020

    Welcome!

    Welcome to all our new families as well, joining Team Music for the first time. It is great to have you on board! Welcome back to all our families and musicians returning to lessons in school.

    Carrying on with our music, safely, is our priority for so many reasons. Yes, things are a little different, but our core ethos has not changed. Creating lifelong musicians. Music is so much part of the lives of our musicians and the joy of returning to live music in school is here.

    We are following all government guidance regarding all aspects of music – guidance that is regularly updated. We have screens in rooms, ventilation, enhanced cleaning, sanitiser everywhere and protocols for every form of musical learning. Lessons continue as normal and will do so, whether in person or if needed online (google meet). Students will need to leave a little longer to get to lessons in the secondary phase, and ensure in primary that instruments are in the music room ready. Some lessons start this week, the majority, including those in the Larch, from 14th.

    Our ensembles kick off from Monday 14th September. Safely, with changes to ensure appropriate distancing, facing forward, correct room size and ventilation, seating plans and registers. We are planning and testing at the moment to see how this will work in practice. We have completed extensive risk assessments and had all our plans checked. Emails will come out this week with all details and timings, where to go following the staggered ends of days etc. Things will feel different, but one thing will not have changed – the same amazing musical sound that our students create.

    Timetables continue to be online, via the link at the top of this page. Students do need to continue to set alarm reminders for lessons and we will support all musicians to settle in to remembering lessons again. Do check our twitter feed (https://twitter.com/simonballemusic) – you don’t need a twitter account to see posts. We celebrate our music and let you know what is going on via twitter.

    What I ask from our families is to stay in touch. If someone is absent from school and has a music lesson, please email us directly so we can plan and teach online in the lesson slot if possible. The more you communicate, the more we can support.

    Being part of Team Music is amazing. We are here – safe, and raring to go. If you need any reassurance or have questions, please get in touch.

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music

  • Working throughout lockdown has been a great community time

    July 2020

    One incredible team. Thank you.

    When it came round to showing the summer concert online, it was a nervous time. For me – how would it work, would it show correctly, what would it sound like, was it worth all the effort? For Heather who had put the concert together – how would it be received, would it all be together? What was shown was a fabulous team achievement. So many musicians involved, so much time spent putting it all together right across our school.

    The online concert seems to have embraced all that was great about Team Music during the past few months – getting on with it and enjoying that little bit of normality, if we can call it that. Feedback from so many people has highlighted how having music lessons and activities, even if online was so good for so many reasons. Some families have been able to be more involved in their young musicians’ learning. Musicians have been on time for lessons, ready and having practised. The sense of connection has still been there. We have listed to past performances online, we have collaborated in projects, we have laughed, we have stayed in touch. A masterclass or two, an amazing Rock School recording project using Soundtrap, online rehearsals and catch ups, fantastic curriculum work created, an adult choir rehearsing online, a singing showcase, many online performances and much more. Most importantly, the learning continued from day one from the youngest to the most senior of our musicians.

    It has been an incredible team achievement. Families, alumni, teachers, support staff, governors, leaders, musicians joining us in September, our education partners and most importantly our musicians. It has been an inspiration to see everyone come together to support in a way never seen before. Music has been a sense of release, a sense of normality, a sense of fun.

    So, thank you to everyone. If you donated for our concert to help our musicians next year, if you supported our move online, if you supported a musician, if you turned up for lessons, if you listened to a recording, if you responded to an email, if you watched a video, if you helped keep us going, if you completed your practice, if you completed even more practice than normal. Being part of Team Music is quite amazing. Next term our music will continue, slightly differently, but we will be still creating just as much music.

    Going back to the Summer Concert. With 180 families watching at that moment online and 1300 views so far, who would have thought that our amazing musical community would come together in such a way. That is the power of our music and our community. Team Music.

    Be proud. Thank you.

  • Previous posts

    July 2020

    One incredible team. Thank you.

    When it came round to showing the summer concert online, it was a nervous time. For me – how would it work, would it show correctly, what would it sound like, was it worth all the effort? For Heather who had put the concert together – how would it be received, would it all be together? What was shown was a fabulous team achievement. So many musicians involved, so much time spent putting it all together right across our school.

    The online concert seems to have embraced all that was great about Team Music during the past few months – getting on with it and enjoying that little bit of normality, if we can call it that. Feedback from so many people has highlighted how having music lessons and activities, even if online was so good for so many reasons. Some families have been able to be more involved in their young musicians’ learning. Musicians have been on time for lessons, ready and having practised. The sense of connection has still been there. We have listed to past performances online, we have collaborated in projects, we have laughed, we have stayed in touch. A masterclass or two, an amazing Rock School recording project using Soundtrap, online rehearsals and catch ups, fantastic curriculum work created, an adult choir rehearsing online, a singing showcase, many online performances and much more. Most importantly, the learning continued from day one from the youngest to the most senior of our musicians.

    It has been an incredible team achievement. Families, alumni, teachers, support staff, governors, leaders, musicians joining us in September, our education partners and most importantly our musicians. It has been an inspiration to see everyone come together to support in a way never seen before. Music has been a sense of release, a sense of normality, a sense of fun.

    So, thank you to everyone. If you donated for our concert to help our musicians next year, if you supported our move online, if you supported a musician, if you turned up for lessons, if you listened to a recording, if you responded to an email, if you watched a video, if you helped keep us going, if you completed your practice, if you completed even more practice than normal. Being part of Team Music is quite amazing. Next term our music will continue, slightly differently, but we will be still creating just as much music.

    Going back to the Summer Concert. With 180 families watching at that moment online and 1300 views so far, who would have thought that our amazing musical community would come together in such a way. That is the power of our music and our community. Team Music.

    Be proud. Thank you.

    Mark Taylor

    Director of Music

    April 2020

    Online learning.

    Adapting is the name of the game. How does Team Music adapt to these different times? Like everyone else, we move online.

    Being a school that uses GSuite for Education, we are better placed than some to be able to do this. Google has the infrastructure, the technology. We already use Google Classroom through our work and the music website is a Google Site. I am a great believer in the power of technology and the ability it has to transform learning. Of course technology cannot replace the teacher in the room but it can help a great deal.

    Last year we made the decision to move our music sequencing from Garageband on old macs to Soundtrap on Chromeboxes. I kept on saying as a reason that work can then be completed at home. Wow. Now it certainly can. Every student in exam classes, Keystage 3 and Year 4 has a Soundtrap account. Soundtrap is a superb online sequencer. In these times of working at home, Soundtrap has proved to be a lifeline for learning to continue. Not only can classes continue to work at home, but choirs are being set rehearsal tracks and virtual choir recordings using it, with some brilliant results. The sharing facility on Soundtrap is amazing.

    As we are a Google school we can also have online face to face instrumental lessons in our safe environment. Whilst setting this up with all our partners has been a challenge, families and students especially have asked for this and engaged with the setup process, which has been superb. Trial lessons were conducted and training given so that everyone is comfortable with this new way of teaching. So many education establishments have moved online like this and we have been very careful to get it right for us, using the technology we already have. Our primary musicians are next to come online in the same spectacular way. 92% of musicians have currently moved online with face to face lessons.

    We are also working to get our musicians engaged in our wider department – sharing musical videos, chatting to each other online, maintaining practice, sending in recordings for virtual ensembles.

    Going forward, it is about our musicians not being ‘in limbo’ but moving on with their learning, making progress. Those long term goals are still there and we need to do all we can to ensure they meet those goals, be it musical ability and milestone to exams or diplomas.

    What has been wonderful though is how everyone in Team Music is staying in touch, often by email, supporting and wishing well. We are still one team in music, still creating music. The videos coming in of students, particularly in the Larch, performing pieces are wonderful.

    We are using Twitter to post recordings and performances – past and present.

    Simon Balle has a rich musical heritage, with so many amazing memories. It also has a rich musical future with everyone working together, even if online for now. This is something we can all be proud of.

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music

    January 2020

    Was George Ezra in Rock School?

    Yes he was, and the Rock Gig last night showed how so many musicians and bands are following in his footsteps. Every Tuesday after school, the music centre is transformed into a wall of rock and contemporary music for 3 hours.

    What amazes me about Rock School is how inclusive it is. Musicians who are not always in the limelight of our more traditional ensembles start to shine and grow in confidence. Students who sometimes struggle academically and socially come alive. They are performing to a large crowd of parents, families and most worryingly for some of them, peers. Students support each other and at the same time create incredible music and incredible memories. It helps remind them why they are at school and what a special place Simon Balle is.

    Rock School continues to grow. Some Year 7 bands start next week, inspired by hearing our incredible Year 12 musicians. They start their journey learning how to work in a team, compromise, work hard and commit. Everyone has to start somewhere.

    The message from last night’s gig was, for me, how everyone supported each other. How so many performed in several bands, how they stepped up, how they had their moment in the spotlight. The musicality was exceptional – tight, musical and confident. So many parents told me it was the best gig in years. There were so many there supporting, so they must be right. It is clear that putting on a gig like this with so many students is a team effort – from the instrumental teachers to the band tutors to the support setting up.

    Last night all these musicians shone and we should be very proud of them. They are following where George Ezra performed all those years ago.

    Mark Taylor, Director of Music