Four Great Years at Dulwich College Beijing

I have been away from this blog for quite some time, mostly because of my busy, rewarding job at my previous school, Dulwich College Beijing. It was just ranked third best international school in the world, which does not surprise me. Here are some of my personal highlights, from my time working at DCB from 2012-2106.

Whilst teaching at Dulwich, I finished my Master of Music Education degree at Northwestern University (4-summer Masters Programme). This was a huge achievement for me. I particularly developed my orchestral conducting and music theory skills in that course. I also had the opportunity to play as principal flute in the NW Summer Orchestra, under Maestro Bob Hasty. He has become a great friend of Dulwich and ISCMS. In my final year, I performed as soloist with the orchestra, which was an incredible honour. See my previous posts.

Development of the Junior Strings Orchestra in Junior School. They were playing very well by the time I left, with the members embracing a happy but competitive culture in the ensemble. I worked in tandem with Nina Haynes (Head of Junior Music) in recent years, and we formed a great team. It is seen now as an excellent group, to which the youngest players aspire. The Junior Music programme has fed into the success and growth of Senior School music very successfully, particularly in the last couple of years.

Leader of Junior Strings, Mango Yue
Leader of Junior Strings, Mango Yue

Development of the DCB Symphony Orchestra – my proudest achievement. I feel the orchestra grew and flourished, under my direction. After my four years, they were working as a dedicated team, with students committed to its success all year round and playing well together. I had good attendance at the weekly rehearsals and performances. High expectations and challenging, well-chosen repertoire, made the orchestra develop into a great sounding ensemble. The Symphony Orchestra is almost completely made up of students now (plus 2 DCB teachers), with very minimal augmentation needed only at big concerts, such as Founders Day, where they perform a long programme every year. I miss working with them, but I know they are in good hands with Paul West.

Conducting DCB Symphony Orchestra, October 2016
Conducting DCB Symphony Orchestra

I taught a few excellent flute students along the way. This being my specialty, I was proud to help them develop into fine flute players, with tonal control far better than most school flute students. Particularly Sarah Markus and Nini Toh, who both became excellent principal flute players in various student orchestras.

Flute students
Flute students Nini Toh and Sarah Markus

I was proud of the improvement of all my general music students, from year 5 to year 13. Their academic results were on an upward trajectory, while I worked at DCB. I believe I had a positive impact on their success and enjoyment of Music. I am particularly proud of the IB Music students who achieved grades of 6 and 7 in SL and HL Music. It is incredibly difficult to get a 7 in IB Music. DCB students seem to achieve only 6 or 7 nowadays, which is amazing.

Another achievement I am proud of, is the development of the KS3 curriculum, working particularly with Chris Hutchinson. We made music in year 7-8-9 better for the students, perhaps in ways that are not immediately obvious. The students now enjoy a rich musical experience, at all levels. They regularly work on creative, student-led, group projects. This can be measured by the increased take-up rates of elective music in year 10. Particularly, Music in years 8-9, is reminiscent of the Musical Futures project-based curriculum which has taken off world-wide in recent years. Students learn a wide range of musical and social skills, in these student-centred music classes at DCB.

I am proud of the audio recording work I did at Dulwich. I grew into that role and improved my technical skills enormously in the time I was there. The high-quality recordings captured of concerts and performances, was a factor in the students gaining top results in examinations and success in auditions and competitions. I worked closely with some incredibly talented young musicians. I am proud to have been able to support them and encourage them in their successes.

As Secretary of ISCMS (International Schools Choral Music Society), I continue to work hard on planning and running the ISCMS Festivals. These high-level music events benefit our top music students enormously. Many DCB students have sung or played in these concerts in Beijing, Shanghai, Busan and Zhuhai. Amy Yun led the ISCMS Festival Orchestra a number of times, Sarah Chan led the cellos, Sarah Markus was Principal Flute. DCB has dominated the winners’ list of the Jenkins Award for composition, with three of the four winners since inception being DCB students. Their excellent compositions were premiered live at ISCMS Festivals.

The many concerts we held at DCB was a great achievement. With my colleagues, we hosted many top international artists, oftentimes having them work with and perform alongside our students. The production and presentation of these concerts was always at a professional standard, with a lot of planning and hard work by us behind the scenes. The Diversty concerts were amazing. Some highlights include having my Chamber Orchestra play an entire recital of Baroque music with the brilliant counter-tenor Justin Kim. The quality of performance by our students at that concert, sounded like professional musicians, at times. More recently, the brilliant Carducci Trio performed at DCB and played with the Chamber Orchestra in two pieces. Even the Junior Strings accompanied Alexander Suleiman in a lovely performance of The Swan by Saint-Saëns, which I arranged, rehearsed and conducted. I was privileged to conduct orchestras for concerti played by Tony Yun (Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor by Chopin) and the amazing cellist Jacob Shaw (Alice on the Beach by Philip Henderson). I also conducted the orchestra in the premiere performance of Memories The Fuel They Burn 2 Stay Alive by Benoit Granier.

Carducci Trio playing with DCB Chamber Orchestra
Carducci Trio playing with DCB Chamber Orchestra

The Dulwich Festival of Music and the Junior MADD (Music Art Drama Dance) Festival were highlights, showcasing DCB students. These events really showed our music programme to be the best of all the Dulwich Colleges (in my opinion!). We always seemed to supply the greatest number and highest quality musicians, at these combined events. Our students’ participation and behaviour was always exemplary and I was never less than extremely proud of all our touring students.

Chris Hutchinson at MADD Festival 2016
Chris Hutchinson at MADD Festival 2016

Right till my last day of work at DCB, music performance was a highlight for me. My excellent Chamber Orchestra played one last time under my direction, in the final prizegiving assembly. A tight, rhythmic performance of Karl Jenkins’s Palladio. A great way to finish, only to be topped off by the hilarious and moving tribute song delivered for me, by my colleagues in the music department, at the staff farewell.

DCB Music Staff
DCB Music Staff

Mozart’s Jupiter & the Forbidden Requiem

Mozart Jupiter Symphony rehearsal

Mozart Jupiter Orchestra - Forbidden City Concert Hall

I have been participating this week in a marvellous four days of music making and learning. The International Schools Choral Music Society gathered together the resources of about 400 students, music teachers and professional musicians from all over the world. We were hosted by Dulwich College, Beijing and co-ordinated and led by Festival Director and Head of Music at Dulwich, the indomitable Shane O’Shea. Three special guests shared their passion for music and expertise with the students and teachers leading workshops, lectures, masterclasses, conducting, coaching, cajoling us all to produce our best.

Pianist, Dr David Curtin (Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, USA) played a wonderful recital celebrating the works of Chopin. His sparkling technique and musicianship inspired the IB music students who attended his piano masterclasses and his cheerful personality and sense of humour added a valuable dimension to the week. My two IB students from BISS, Maggie Liu and Harry Zhang played and participated in masterclass with Dr Curtin.

Composer, musicologist and music scholar, Dr Martin Adams (Senior Lecturer and Head of Music at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland) inspired students and staff with his passion and enthusiasm for music during his lectures focussing on the International Baccalaureate set works. Students and teachers gained a little of his insights and depth of thinking by having the opportunity to chat informally and attend his great lectures.

Dr Robert Hasty, Associate Director of Orchestras at Northwestern University (Chicago, USA) – coached and conducted the Festival Orchestra in a stunning performance of the Mozart Jupiter Symphony. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play flute in the symphony alongside the fine young international students and local musicians from the China conservatories. Under Dr Hasty’s patient guidance, particularly the string players made dramatic improvements during the three days of preparation and became a very fine orchestra in a very short time. Dr Hasty also led conducting masterclasses aimed at music teachers (including myself) and students. We all benefited enormously from his clear, logical explanations and fine conducting technique. It was a real privilege working with and learning from such a excellent musician.

As I have said, the culmination of all the hard work was the performance in the Forbidden City Concert Hall of Mozart’s epic Symphony 41 in C Major ‘Jupiter’ and his monumental Requiem. What an experience for us all to put on a concert like this in such a special location as Beijing’s Forbidden City. The requiem choir had about 300 singers on stage, with students and teachers from 19 International Schools as well as the visiting professors participating. Conducted by Festival Director Shane O’Shea, the sound of the choir was rich and beautiful. It is so unusual to witness a choral performance where the power of the voices easily matched that of the orchestra. The precision of the singing in the chorus was truly remarkable, with clarity of articulation, phrasing and diction enabling the difficult Latin text to be clearly heard throughout. The energy and power of the choir was tempered by the tight ensemble work achieved through detailed sectional practises.The hard work of all the schools and their music staff culminated in a thrilling and impressively accurate performance. I am so proud to have been involved and look forward to making an annual pilgrimage with my students to future Festivals.