King Edward's Music

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham

Category: masterclass

Margaret Cookhorn on BBC Radio 3

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham; Margaret Cookhorn on the BBC


Inside Music

Today, bassoonist and principal contrabassoonist of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Margaret Cookhorn shares her excitement about a rare experience – playing the contrabassoon in chamber music by Mozart. She also analyses how Richard Strauss brings exotic flavours to the orchestra in his take on Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, and explains her fascination for patterns in the music of Benjamin Britten. Margaret’s choices range from a miniature by Elgar played by violinist Nigel Kennedy to part of Messiaen’s massive Turangalila Symphony, plus vocal acrobatics from Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby McFerrin.

You can read more at the programme by visiting:

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham

Christmas Concerts in Pictures

Shells meet CBSO – 11 October 2019

Thank you to David Ash @

You can find full gallery at:

Exploring music through stories: the story of Peter and the Wolf

Once upon a time …

A video directed by Wai Ho Chui, a pupil of King Edward’s School.

The Miss Margaret Davis Memorial Recital

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The Miss Margaret Davis Memorial Recital

Thursday 26th September 2019

Ruddock Hall, 13.10

Renee Chang violin

Ben Marrett clarinet

Lauren Zhang piano

Works by Tchaikovsky, Kreisler, Arnold, Brahms and Liszt.

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham

This recital is presented jointly with King Edward VI High School for Girls

Jazz Evening

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Jazz Evening

Sunday 23rd June 2019
 Ruddock Hall, 16.30

Featuring guest professional musicians:

Joe Thompson, piano (Ivy Club London, ITV’s Daily Show, Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th Birthday party, Prince Charles’ 70th (pretty much the Royal Birthday Pianist!), and his long suffering colleague:
Robert Rickenberg, bass

Plus Senior Swing Band with student vocalists:

Nandini Bulchandani
Charlotte Chapman
Elysia Cheung

and many more:

Vocal Duos

Tara Desai & Sanjana Sudeshkumar
Priyanka Chaudhuri & Emil Ali
Joe Ward & Shivanii Arun

and even more!

Arun Ramanathan, voice
Nathan Cornish, trombone
Naomi Bazlov, piano & George Roberts, bass

Charlotte Howdle on Sibelius

Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957):  Violin concerto in D minor, op. 47

i. Allegro moderato 

ii. Adagio di molto 

iii. Allegro, ma non tanto 

 It was in 1903, with his successful second symphony behind him, that the Finnish composer, Sibelius, wrote his violin concerto. It was the only concerto he ever composed and had long been promised to Willy Burmester, a prominent soloist of the day. Sibelius was himself a violin virtuoso and described as a “genius” by one of his teachers in Helsinki. However, he appeared to have lost confidence and it was not without regret that he accepted his future as a composer rather than a violinist. This concerto was written during one of the most turbulent periods of his life where he was a heavy drinker and had mounting debts. His wife had regularly to  seek him out and take him from the fashionable clubs and bars of Helsinki to encourage him to work on the score. Once completed, he could not afford to fly Burmester to Finland to perform the piece and therefore he asked the Czech violinist Victor Nováček to play it. However, Nováček was not equal to the technical challenges of the work and the concerto met with incomprehension and disapproval; one critic of the time writing, “a red-faced and perspiring Nováček fought a losing battle with a solo part that bristled with … great difficulties.” After the lacklustre debut, Sibelius revised and condensed the work and Burmester again offered to play it, writing, “All of my twenty-five years’ stage experience, my artistry and insight will be at the service of this work … I shall play the concerto in Helsinki in such a way that the city will be at your feet.” However, Sibelius’ German publisher wanted Karl Halir, a violinist and the concertmaster in Berlin, to undertake the solo part and Sibelius agreed. Burmester was understandably outraged and vowed never to play the work, a promise which he kept. The revised version was heard in 1905, Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

Despite the frailties displayed by Sibelius in his personal life, there are no signs of weakness in the concerto. That said, there is certainly Nordic melancholy, and powerful emotions are expressed throughout. The concerto follows the classical tradition and retains the usual three-movement form. The soloist takes charge from the beginning of the expansive first movement with a long lyrical paragraph which is beautifully shaped over the tapestry of the accompanying divided violins. The second theme is impassioned, initially appearing in the orchestra, anticipated by the bassoons and clarinets, and taken up by the solo part.  This is followed by the orchestra’s introduction of a third thematic idea. Sibelius replaces the development section with a solo cadenza and this is followed by a recapitulation. An aching nostalgia is displayed in the three-part second movement, a woodwind introduction with a melody in thirds preparing for the broad, singing theme of the solo violin. The mood changes dramatically at the opening of the third and final movement which is a restless scherzo in rondo form. Over the rhythmic ostinato of the orchestra, the virtuosity of the violin is displayed most clearly, often in the violin’s highest range and the strong march-like tune passes back and forth between violin and orchestra. Its dance-like energy prompted the British musicologist, Donald Francis Tovey, to describe it as a “polonaise for polar bears.” However, this was clearly not intended to be derogatory as he went on: “In the … looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann, I have not met a more original, a more masterly and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto”.

Charlotte Howdle, Upper Sixths


Peter and the Firebird – A Birmingham Schools Spectacular

Peter and the Firebird – A Birmingham Schools Spectacular

Some projects are a long time in the making, but often all the more satisfying because of it. Earlier this week I was in Birmingham for the culmination of a glorious, ambitious, beautiful project, hosted by King Edward School and their music teacher/conductor Dr Martin Leigh, music teacher Keith Farr, and embracing seven other schools in the Birmingham area.

With the idea of using story and art in music as an aid to inspire primary school children to compose their own music, I helped develop a book for schools, “Exploring Music through Stories”, full of useful teaching notes. Meanwhile Martin and Keith were actively involved in working directly with schools and teachers to encourage the children to create something wonderful – and they did!

They should be named: Hallmoor (who presented – and charmingly acted – songs from Hansel and Gretel); Bourneville and Tiverton (who offered a fresh look at Peter and the Wolf); Brownmead (who conjured the witch Baba Yaga with a beautifully slavic sounding song); The Oval (I loved their midnight clock for Cinderella!); Elms Farm (Their “Snegurochka” song touched the heart in their version of The Snow Maiden) and Hillstone (who brilliantly used percussion and all kinds of unusual sounds to share the underwater world of Sadko – amazing!). Huge congratulations to them all – it was truly wonderful to witness! all the children, shining with pride and achievement!

Afterwards, in keeping with the Russian Fairy Tale theme, I narrated and illustrated the original version of Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, plus a couple of extracts from Stravinsky’s Firebird, with the KES symphony orchestra, who played superbly.

But that wasn’t all – there then followed an evening performance of Peter and the Wolf and the full 1919 suite from The Firebird. A pretty full day! For me, the challenge was to learn the narration for Peter and the Wolf and many complicated cues, by heart. As I was illustrating the tale simultaneously, at my easel, it wasn’t possible to use a score, so it all had to be firmly embedded in my memory. Happily I survived both times without mishap, and the lovely warm Birmingham audience made me most welcome.

My thanks to and admiration for Keith and Martin are boundless. The way Martin thanked every single student in the orchestra, as they left the stage, was utterly heartwarming. Also thanks to Sarah Mullen of the brilliant Busy Parents Network, who so ably supported this glorious, unforgettable event. One of the best I’ve ever been involved in.

I’m now looking forward to returning to Birmingham for several Busy Parent Network events at their Bournville Book Fest in March, including another concert, with Birmingham opera singer Abigail Kelly, an event full of art and arias as I accompany her singing with painting! You can find out more here:

James Mayhew

James is the creator of the much-loved Katie and Ella Bella Ballerina series and many other books, including Koshka’s Tales, Miranda the Explorer and Boy. Alongside his work in publishing, James has devised and performs in a hugely successful series of concerts for children, combining live classical music, storytelling and art.

Peter & the Wolf: melting icy hearts



Peter & the Wolf: Elms Farm Primary School

Pupils from Elms Farm Primary School followed the story of Snow Maiden. These are just some of the chalk drawings they have created.

Peter & the Wolf: creating music together



Peter & the Wolf: Brownmead Academy

King Edward’s pupils and pupils from Brownmead Academy worked together to create some wonderful music.

Peter & the Wolf: magical world



Peter & the Wolf: The Oval Primary School  

Pupils from the Oval Primary School have recreated some of the Cinderella magic.

Peter & the Wolf: construction




Peter & the Wolf: Hallmoor School 

Hallmoor School students have immersed themselves into the world of Hensel and Gretel. They built some beautiful houses.

Peter & the Wolf: young artists

Peter & the Wolf: Hillstone Primary School

Pupils at Hillstone Primary School have created some truly marvellous paintings in readiness for their performance on 5 February.

Peter and the Wolf: pupils hard at work

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham -- Peter and the Wolf

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: Peter and the Wolf

Peter & the Wolf: Bourville and Tiverton Primary Schools

Pupils at Bourville and Tiverton Primary schools are working very hard on their composition pieces to be performed on 5 February at the Ruddock Hall.

This is just the taster of the musical soundscape they created. We are all very excited to hear their live performance!


Players from the CBSO record the Fifths’ string quartets.

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham -- CBSO recordings of boys' string quartets

Knowing the score

So………..serialism. That great musical genre, of harmony, tunefulness and beautifulness. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything like that. Our compositions were full of increasingly obscure intervals and notes which clash and produce a dissonance that would usually mean your music is awful. But no, not serialism. It can sound as unusual and un-’musical’ as you want. I think that’s the really interesting aspect of our compositions is that we can break the majority of the rules we thought existed. Thus, the creations had rhythms that were harder to notate than play, titles which seemed like the composer was going mad while writing them and notes which had no musical bearing to their surroundings, save the matrix which we so faithfully trusted.

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham -- CBSO recordings of boys' string quartets (4)

Trust the Matrix

We embarked on our ‘creations’ towards the end of our fourth year and finally at the end of the autumn term in fifths our pieces got recorded by a remarkable set of players: Kate Suthers, CBSO principal second violin; Kate Oswin, CBSO first violin; Adam Römer, CBSO principal viola; Richard Jenkinson, ex-CBSO ‘cello, Mark Walkem, double bass extraordinaire and Sara Wilander, pianist of note. On that Friday, these players all came together to give life to our pieces and a recording of our pieces that even the titan of Sibelius (the musical composition software not the man himself…) could reproduce.

Arush’s piece Twisted Flamingoes, untwisted into particularly difficult slow triplet minims. We then had a sad moment when Rohan’s Orangutans died, so we had to play them a funeral piece, which was handily composed by Rohan. Then as time flew along we had Louis’ Tempus, and no sooner had we started the baroque-styled piece we moved on. We then had Heftigkeit (violence) by Gokul, which was lost over the summer and then refound (i.e. Gokul re-wrote it). We then tamed Jacob’s Wild Beasts, which turned out to be the middle strings.

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham -- CBSO recordings of boys' string quartets (2)

Written the night before?

Then, we had the piano pieces. These came about due to our rebellious nature: Dr Leigh said do a string quartet, so I did a piano sextet, Shirom a piano trio and Jiaqi a piano quartet. I got the prize for the longest title being: A three legged waltz, a bridge, hell and back again. Then Shirom had his Notes- The exploration of serialism through the transcendence of life and love, which had some interesting rhythms and some challenging double stopping that even the CBSO found tricky. Finally Jiaqi, the most rebellious one. He had a ‘normal’ piece after giving up on his serialist one. It had a piano part that wouldn’t be amiss in a Rachmaninov prelude and had some recognisable motifs, at least to the CBSO.

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham -- CBSO recordings of boys' string quartets (3)

Hell and back?

So, all I need do now is say thank you to the players and to Dr. Leigh for making this happen.


George Roberts, Fifths

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham