Let Me Shine: A Musical Celebration

On Friday evening, an enthusiastic audience in Speech Hall enjoyed a concert with a difference. The “Summer Concert for Autism” concert was…

On Friday evening, an enthusiastic audience in Speech Hall enjoyed a concert with a difference. The “Summer Concert for Autism” concert was designed to raise awareness and support for Autism, and was a joint venture by the Music Department – which has led the school’s commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in recent years – and two organisations which support Autism: the Simon Trust and the Orpheus Centre. After an introductory video explaining the nature of autism, Mr Saxel introduced Peter Lawrence (OC, 1972), who then spoke about the history and work of the Simon Trust, of which he was the founder, and played a specially recorded video message from Dame Stephanie Shirley, a great supporter and philanthropist.

The musical items started with jazz from the Big Band, whose performances of “Fantasy” and “Midnight” (featuring evocative saxophone solos by Mr. Sandford and Oscar Gratton respectively) created a sultry, summer mood. This was followed by an original composition by members of the Contemporary Fusion Ensemble – a fascinating combination of instruments, including electric guitars, percussion, saxophone, clarinet, violins and keyboard – playing an eclectic mixture of musical styles, from jazz to folk song. Utterly mesmerising.

The 10-piece Brass Ensemble then played two contrasting “Dance Episodes” by Edward Gregson, the first mysterious lilting, the second full of rhythmic fanfares, before the School Choir sang Bob Chilcott’s uplifting version of “Every Time I feel the Spirit” and then segued seamlessly into a beautiful arrangement of “Shenandoah”. A change of venue (during the interval), allowed the Saxophone Ensemble to give a rousing rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Percussion Group to perform in impressively tight formation as a drum line.

The highlight of the evening however, was the performance of the ‘Music Majors’; a group of six talented musicians from the Orpheus Trust, who performed two improvised pieces of music as an ensemble which included piano, voice, strings, saxophone and bass guitar. The infectious joy and confidence with which the ‘Music Majors’ performed was striking, and a wonderful affirmation of the value of music in these young peoples’ lives. Orpheus believes that disabled people should have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers, and aim to equip young disabled people with the skills and confidence they need in order to live fulfilling lives. These young people, all passionate about the Arts, gave the strongest of endorsements for the work of the centre, founded by celebrity song writer and broadcasting legend Sir Richard Stilgoe, in 1997. In an entertaining introduction, he explained how he set up the centre to help autistic people learn the basic life skills and develop the confidence needed in order to be able to take care of themselves once they leave, and how music plays such a fundamental role in achieving that goal.

The String Orchestra then gave a rousing performance of two staples of the classical repertoire, both with a strong Eastern European flavour: Dvorak’s bright and sunny “Carnival Overture” and Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No.1”. This was followed by the Orchestra playing the famously dark, brooding theme from “Skyfall”, which contrasted comically with the upbeat pioneer spirit of the “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo”.

To round off a very uplifting evening, we were then given a moving account by Mr Tomson Chauke, of the remarkable story of how a collaboration between the young people and staff of Prior’s Court (an autism charity in Berkshire where Tomson works) led to the song “Let Me Shine” being composed and then recorded at the famous Abbey Road studios in London. Everybody in the building (performers and audience alike) then joined in singing the song, which had been specially arranged and orchestrated for the concert by Dr. Thomas. The words said it all – “Accept me for who I am, and let me shine” – and reminded us that music is a universal language, helping everyone to engage on their own terms and in their own way.

Mr R Saxel – Director of Music

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