Music is known as one of the jewels in the Leighton Park crown, but ironically, in the school’s earliest years, the school reflected the traditional Quaker view that music was a “forbidden spiritual distraction”. Hymn singing was allowed, in unison, for simplicity, but such was the enthusiasm of the boys, that reservations were swept aside and a small orchestra was set up, known as “The Band”. “The Leightonian” 1895 featured an article “A Sudden Outbreak of Music at Leighton Park.” Singing was left to the enthusiastic soloist at concerts and singing class; social evenings in the Houses were an opportunity to perform. The Music Society also laid on events too; this was a boys’ committee with robust adult steering. Trips to concerts were arranged and in time, a gramophone was bought.
For 80 years, the Music Society led the musical life of the school; music was rarely mentioned in inspection reports before 1950s. Concerts were often held after Sunday Evening Meeting. By the 1950s there were two orchestras and a Jazz Band; the sound of ukuleles resonated around the Houses in the 1920s, while guitars were the backdrop to the 60s.
The prominence of singing gradually increased. There was a Choral Group in the 1930s. In 1947 Leighton Park became the first school to perform Faure’s Requiem. Small House Choirs were set up and featured in the Hobbies Competitions; John Ounsted believed that passions developed outside the classroom could equally lead to successful careers. Girls from Queen Anne’s and also St Joseph’s were sometimes brought in for major musical productions, before Leighton Park became co-educational. A pattern developed of the biannual alternation with Drama that continues to this day.
The new Peckover in 1916 offered a stage for performing and a music room; George Cadbury gave the school a magnificent organ to assist hymn singing in celebration of the founding of the League of Nations. Later, in Townson, a Music Room, A Quartet Room and 6 practice rooms were created. It was another fifty years before the Main Hall, Recital Room and Music teaching area was built, enabling the school to put on major performances of music and drama. In the 21st Century, Music teaching, activities and the explosion in media and technology necessitated a major redevelopment of the facility.
Inspiring and enthusiastic teachers have been key to the transformation of music into a major feature of the school:
Edward Ballard (1895-1918) was the first serious musician on the staff, at a time when music was purely recreational.
Humphrey Hare (1934-1950) led the establishment of music as a solid tradition of learning and performance. Head of Chemistry but a talented singer, pianist and cellist.
Donald Pitcher had a passion for opera and revived A Quaker Opera and wrote several which were performed in school.
Peter Allwood (1975-1979) brought Jazz, Big Band and Brass Bands to the fore, supported by Michael Omer. The biennial opera was replaced by more contemporary shows, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1976, and Music for a Summer’s Evening was established.
Nicholas Houghton (1980-1988) introduced overseas music tours, and Pat Kelly led the Jazz and big Band.
Present Director of Music, Rosemary Scales took over from Tony Biggins in 2003. House Music has soared to even greater heights of competition and enthusiasm. Meeting the demand for media and music technologies, Rosemary headed a new era at the school. In 2016, the school began a prestigious partnership with Yamaha Music and in 2018, the new Music and Media Centre will open.