Royal Hospital School Holbrook throws open its doors and strikes up the band

The BBC Big Band, playing at the Royal Hospital School Holbrook

The BBC Big Band, playing at the Royal Hospital School Holbrook - Credit: Archant

It’s one of the region’s most creative environments for music-makers, but did you know The Royal Hospital School in Holbrook stages a range of events for the public every year? Entertainment writer Wayne Savage looks at the new season

The RHS chapel choir. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

The RHS chapel choir. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

Whether it’s watching Divisions on the parade ground to rocking out with Robbie Gladwell’s Blind Panic, RHS is throwing its doors open once again - with more than 50 musical events between now and next July.

It’s a mix of traditional school events like the Charity Gala, Schools Choirs and Music Scholars’ concerts as well as visits from the likes of The BBC Big Band and Chris Ingham Quartet. Then there are lectures and masterclasses too.

“You can turn up to watch Divisions (an important part of the school’s heritage where students honour those who died for the nation’s peace and security) or our Notes and Nibbles lunchtime concerts (where pupils perform a programme of solo and chamber music). We’ve a whole concoction of different styles,” says William Saunders, RHS director of music.

At the heart of each of the 50-plus events are the students.

The RHS Gala Concert is always a spectacle. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

The RHS Gala Concert is always a spectacle. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

“I’m flicking through (the programme) and there’s nothing in there that hasn’t got a pupil aspect to it.

“There’s also a whole day of year seven workshops that come together in a concert in the evening. I fundamentally believe our pupils should have access to all these different styles of music and the whole community should have access to what we have to offer too.”

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The programme is a great chance for pupils to play with professional musicians at the top of their field.

“There’s also an opportunity (to perform) in the informal setting of our lunchtime concerts or the very formal setting of performing Mozart’s Requiem or as part of East Anglian Organ Day... It’s a huge variety of things. Fundamentally, we’re showing off what we have to offer – whether it’s the students’ talents or the facilities we have here which blow people away,” adds Mr Saunders.

The Grand Union Orchestra

The Grand Union Orchestra - Credit: Archant

It’s tricky, he says, to pick particular highlights; each has a different audience.

“The Come and Sing Sound of Music (with National Youth Choirs of Great Britain director Ben Parry) should be a hoot, there’s no age limit there. The Candles by Candlelight at Christmas with Griff Rhys Jones as the narrator will be fun.”

There’s also the Grand Union Orchestra, a group of world musicians combining elements as diverse as Chinese court music, Bengali folk songs and Indian ragas to rustic dances from Turkey and Eastern Europe, West African drumming and chant, calypso and reggae from the Caribbean and the salsa and samba of South Africa.

“That’s missing out all of our stalwart events like the Schools Choirs’ Concert which is compered by our head of singing and assistant conductor of the NYCGB Dominic Peckham, who’s got a television programme on at the moment - BBC2’s Naked Choir with Gareth Malone (coming to the Ipswich Regent in December). This is the first time we’ve done a pop or rock concert like Robbie Gladwell’s Blind Panic, that will equally be entertaining.

“Our message is come and experience some of these events. They’re not all just sitting down in a concert hall listening to a couple of hours of music, not that there’s anything wrong with that; a lot of stuff you can actually get involved with.”

Music, says Mr Saunders, is one of the linchpins of what makes RHS special. There have been many changes lately, with huge investment in music technology and a new bandmaster brimming with lots of amazing ideas set to take over from the retiring Roger Jones. You can read my chat with the latter online now.

“What we’ve achieved in the last three years is pretty special but hopefully there’s lots more to come. We’re very lucky how much we’re doing.”

Visit for the full programme.