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Music News and Events

Year 11 Mass for Remembrance

On Monday 11th November 2019, Remembrance Day was marked in school by a Mass attended by all of Year 11 and presided over by Fr. Paul from St Bede’s Church.  At 11am, Leanne, a talented Year 7, played the Last Post on the cornet with her teacher Ms Hodges, whilst the rest of the school fell silent to remember the war dead.

“I learnt to not be afraid…

Leanne, who is working towards her Grade 5 on the cornet, played the Last Post over the tannoy system so that the whole school could hear.  She said she “learnt to not be afraid… being confident when preforming in front of others”.  Although she was “a bit nervous because it was her first time playing in front of a lot of people” she would definitely recommend the experience.  I heard her play and can vouch for the fact that she played very well!

“You can ask the Lord for guidance, help and support…”

Chinwendu, a Year 11 student who is involved in Gospel Choir and previously was involved in Tour Choir, sang in a special choir made of Year 11s for the Mass service.  As well as helping students remember the dead, Chinwendu said “it gave us a chance to reflect on our own attitude and helped us to prepare mentally for the exams coming soon”.  Chinwendu felt it was a good opportunity to “ask the Lord for guidance, help and support.”

Overall the Year 11s and Leanne did a magnificent job, giving the soldiers the commemoration and respect they deserve. 

- Tamara (Year 9, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).


"Sounds" Like an Amazing Time!

In the summer term, La Retraite students did a music songwriting project run by the organisation School Ground Sounds (see earlier article by Chief Correspondent Alice). As well as helping the students learn how to write lyrics and set them to song, the project also allowed them to develop important life skills such as; brainstorming, teamwork and confidence in performance.  On Monday 15th of July 2019, students went on a trip to record their own music at the “Raw Materials” professional studio in Brixton.  I interviewed some of the participants to find out a little more about what the experience was like.

“I will continue to write songs….”

Zarah, a Year 9 student, recommends this experience and said, “we were taught how to write songs, it definitely helps me in life, and I will continue to write songs”. She also said, “I would definitely recommend this experience, it really did help me. It helped me to boost my confidence because before I couldn’t sing in front of people”. Zarah is planning to join the gospel choir “it looks like a nice club and I would like to join it.”

“Come out of your shell….”

Erika, a Year 9 student involved in gospel choir said, “its good to help you come out of your shell and it teaches you that anything that you come up with can be useful.  Whether it’s a beat or lyric, it can all be useful to make something special.”

“Show our talents to each other….”

Valentina, a Year 9 student said, “I liked recording what I had written because it gives an opportunity to meet new people and show our talents to each other”. She also said, “It was fun, and I love to experience new things like this”.  Valentina is planning to join Gospel Choir and do singing lessons.

Overall our La Retraite students enjoyed this experience and would recommend this or a similar workshop to help show your true talent.  Plans are in place for the project to run again this term.

- Tamara, (Year 8, Music Department, Assistant Correspondent).


A “Wicked” experience they’d never forget!

On Wednesday 26th June 2019, a group of La Retraite students went on a trip to The Victoria Theatre to see “Wicked”, the musical. The musical includes famous songs such as “Defying Gravity” and “Popular”.  The plot was about a girl called Elphaba who is “a misunderstood green girl”, that went to school and met Glenda (a good witch) and they became best friends.

“it was a very good experience, especially good because we are studying it in school…”

The performance was entertaining; the instrumentalists and singers were skilled and were good at making a show. Genevieve, a Year 10 student involved in tour choir, choir for mass services and singing lessons, said that she would recommend the show, saying, “it was a very good experience, especially good because we are studying it in school so it made it easier to visualise”. She said her favourite aspect of the show was, “Elphaba singing a song called Defying Gravity”. Genevieve is planning to start also getting involved in music outside of school and watch more musicals because she really enjoyed the trip.

“a phenomenal experience…”

Davina, a Year 7 student, is involved in the choir and plays violin.  She said she, “would definitely recommend this show for different family members because everyone has seen the wizard of oz.” She enjoyed learning more about the wicked witch of the west and she enjoyed it, “when she (Elphaba) went up to the sky and sung a song called Defying Gravity, it was really cool.”

Over all our La Retraite Students had a phenomenal experience and would definitely watch another musical like this.

- Tamara, (Year 8, Music Department, Assistant Correspondent).



‘…perform in a foreign country and develop their musical skills by visiting Paris…’

On Tuesday 9th July to Friday 12th July 2019, the La Retraite Tour Choir had the chance to perform in a foreign country and develop their musical skills by visiting Paris for a few days. We performed at two very prestigious locations: the Eglise de la Madeleine in Place de la Madeleine (central Paris) and Disneyland Paris’ Videopolis Stage. We sang a medley of pop and religious repertoire, including songs from Hairspray, Sister Act and The Greatest Showman, and anthems by John Rutter, Howard Goodall and Giulio Caccini. We also had the honour of having an original work, Veni Creator Spiritus, written for us by Tim Brice.  The choir was directed by Miss Whitmarsh, with Mr Brice and Mr Owens playing the piano and organ.

‘At Disneyland, we were treated like proper professional artists…’

The two experiences were very different from one another, but it was an honour to be able to sing and represent the school at both.  Originally the choir was booked to sing at Notre Dame Cathedral; however, due to the fire that happened there in April 2019 this was not possible.  We were very lucky with the replacement venue of the Eglise de la Madeleine – it was a stunning location.  The church is a huge Romanesque building with beautiful ceilings and a rich acoustic.  The choir got to sing with a proper pipe organ and really resonate, with the choral repertoire sounding particularly beautiful.

At Disneyland, we were treated like proper professional artists, with dressing rooms and briefings back stage.  We were even counted down onto the stage as if we were on TV!  The audience was quite big, with a lot of seats filled in a large space.

‘…not only sang but took part in a range of other fun activities…’

In Paris, we not only sang but took part in a range of other fun activities. On Wednesday we visited the Montparnasse Tower and enjoyed a fantastic view of the city’s most famous monuments, squares and museums, such as the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre and Notre Dame. We also took a walk in the busy streets of Montmartre, had our first performance in the church, and went on a lovely boat ride on the river Seine in the evening. On Thursday, after our Disney performance, we had some free time to visit the park and the Walt Disney Studios. We had a lot of fun going on different rides and exploring, and in the evening we enjoyed a tasty dinner at Planet Hollywood restaurant.

‘…we are already planning the next tour.’

This year’s trip was exceptional, and we are already planning the next tour.  Students interested should see Miss Whitmarsh at the music office in September 2019. 

- Alice (Year 8, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).



Gospel Choir Performance

‘…the fantastic opportunity to perform… in front of Cardinal Nichols…’

On Wednesday 3rd July 2019, selected members of the Gospel Choir had the fantastic opportunity to perform at the Million Minutes Young People Award Ceremony 2019 at the CURZON Theatre in the West End.  Audience member included: Cardinal Vincent Nichols (Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales); other distinguished guests from CAFOD and the House of Lords; and family & friends of the young people receiving the awards. The ceremony, which championed young people who had served their community and parish during this year, was very inspirational, and an honour to perform at.  The prize winners were all such valuable and committed members of our society.

The La Retraite Gospel Choir sang at this joyful occasion alongside students from the Gospel choirs of St. Thomas the Apostle School & 6th Form College and St. Philomena’s Catholic High School.  It was lovely to collaborate in this way.  The choir was conducted by Natalie Christian-John, who directs the Gospel Choirs in all three schools. We sang a rendition of “Happy” by Tasha Cobbs, “I Will Bless The Lord” by Byron Cage, and “Let Praises Rise” Trad.

‘The performance was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone present…’

After the performance, the Cardinal himself congratulated the Choir on our efforts. The performance was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone present, and we of course were delighted to sing at such a prestigious event.  Here’s hoping that now we have impressed the Cardinal we can get to sing at the Vatican for Pope Francis next! 

- Alice (Year 8, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).


Year 8 Mass

On Tuesday 11th June 2019, Year 8 pupils here at La Retraite got together to pray and worship, taking part in an afternoon mass service dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Church. The mass, which took place in the school chapel during period 6, was an opportunity for the girls to grow in faith and remember the significance of Mary for the church.  Students from different form groups had an active role in the service, involved in: singing, reading, bidding prayers, and bringing gifts during the offertory.

“Students… learned a variety of new and old hymns/mass parts”

Throughout the previous three weeks, the students selected to sing at the mass attended several rehearsals, during which they learned a variety of new and old hymns/mass parts, with the help of our School Lay Chaplain, Marie, and Mr Owens (Director of Music). They improved their confidence and musical skills by volunteering to sing solos as well.

The week before the service, I interviewed one of the Y8 singers, Emily, as well as Marie, both of whom were able to give me an insight on the planning and effort required for putting on school masses/events.

“happier … after music lessons and rehearsals at school”

Flute instrumentalist, Tour Choir singer and music lover Emily is an active member of the La Retraite music community. She has also recently been part of the School Ground Sounds song writing workshop (see previous article on the music section of the school’s web site). Emily adores music, saying that it changes her mood in a positive way, making her feel, “happier and better after music lessons and rehearsals at school”.

Emily also sings outside school in church every Saturday, and according to her, music in worship “isn’t about how good your singing skills are, it is about how close you are to God and how faithful to your religion”. Her favourite pieces that she is learning for the mass have so far been ‘10 000 Reasons’ – by Matt Redman, and the Kyrie of the mass setting by Edwin Fawcett. She mentioned that she likes the song ‘10 000 Reasons’ as she finds that it has “pleasant and understandable lyrics”, and she is able to relate to the song.

From this experience, she gained a variety of skills, such as “learning how to sing with people [who she had] never sung with before…listening to and appreciating other’s people abilities”, and developing her own musical skills too. Emily also mentioned that she would, “encourage any aspiring student singers/instrumentalists at our school to join choirs and the orchestra, and to share their talents with the supportive music community we have at La Retraite”.

“music in worship is very important”

Our School Lay Chaplain, Marie, provided me with information on her role in event planning and preparation, as well as her experience so far here at La Retraite. She joined the school in December 2018, and has made it her focus to get to know our school community and find out how things work in general. She has also been busy attending and supporting events such as Flame ‘19 at the beginning of March, as well as: arranging form masses (creating booklets, selecting music, readings and prayers); organising reconciliation and Lectio Divina sessions for both Advent and Lent; coordinating bake sales for the Year 9 charity week; and attending the St George’s Cathedral’s Good Samaritan Mass along with LR students.

In her opinion, music in worship is very important and, as stated by St. Augustine, “When you sing, you pray twice”. However, she said that it is also important to remember that “singing/playing in liturgies isn’t a performance, it is to glorify God”. Her future projects include organising the Year 10 Sacred Heart Mass and the Year 7 Retreat Day. 

- Alice (Year 8, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).


SCHOOL GROUND SOUNDS - Music Songwriting Course

On Tuesday 21st May 2019, I had the pleasure of observing the second session of a new, exciting project that has started here at La Retraite: the School Ground Sounds songwriting course. Every Tuesday afternoon for 8 weeks, aspiring singer-songwriters, poets and instrumentalists from different year groups have the opportunity to develop, share and express their talents by attending course workshops.  Here they are improving their teamwork, time-management, confidence and creative skills through writing, devising and performing a song as their main project. At the end of the programme, students involved will be recording their song in a professional studio, ‘Raw Material’ (Brixton,

‘…the girls ideas were different and unique… each one of them had put passion and effort in their pieces of writing’

The session started with some fun warm-up games, where the girls had the chance to introduce and get to know one another as well as unwind and relax. The pupils were then inspired by videos of works such as the Artists for Grenfell’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and SKODA’s ‘I Gotta Be Me’. Then, everyone took part in a brainstorming activity on the theme of ‘song’. They came up with various genres and topics associated with songs; afterwards, they shared their ideas with the group and independently interpreted them, creating a main concept linking to the topic (a short story or lyrics). Following the creative writing task, everybody read their concepts aloud. It was very interesting to see how all the girls’ ideas were different and unique, how some linked with others and many were based on personal experiences as well. It was clear that each one of them had put passion and effort in their pieces of writing, and that they were very talented indeed. The afternoon ended with a heartfelt improvisation of the song ‘Lean on Me’, which they all sang together (including harmonies as well!).

‘…encouraging young people to pursue their passions through singing, playing and songwriting’

School Ground Sounds is a South-London-based programme which involves working with schools in the area.  It is all about encouraging young people to pursue their passions through singing, playing and songwriting, as well as providing them with the means and the space to do so. They work closely with the ‘Raw Material’ recording studio in Brixton, who give rappers, producers, writers and aspiring musicians the professional advice and contacts needed to start their careers.

‘…two professional musicians leading the School Ground Sounds programme… recently toured with the Kingdom Choir, the inspirational ensemble who sang at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.’

We are so fortunate to have two professional musicians leading the School Ground Sounds programme at La Retraite: Mariam – a singer, songwriter, guitarist and member of multiple choirs across London, who also does voiceovers, radio/television programmes and theatre; and Shamanie – also a singer and songwriter, as well as a drum kit player. They both perform at fairs, gigs, parks, community-based events and renowned locations such as Winter Wonderland.  Mariam has recently toured with the Kingdom Choir, the inspirational ensemble who sang at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

‘…everyone is a beginner at some point, so don’t be scared, because there is room for everybody in music’

When asked about what advice to give young, aspiring musicians and writers such as those here at our school, Shamanie said it was essential to ‘start and, most importantly, continue, as life is too short to be wasting time, and stopping isn’t going to get anybody anywhere’. She also mentioned to ‘say yes to no situations: jump on opportunities, no matter how challenging or uncomfortable they may seem at first, and don’t be intimidated by them’. Mariam added that ‘everyone is a beginner at some point, so don’t be scared, because there is room for everybody in music’. They both said that hopefully students will feel encouraged to continue their journey as writers/musicians after this project, and I wish them all the best for the future.

It is hoped that one or more of the songs created during the project will be performed at the La Retraite Summer Concert on Friday 5th July 2019 (6:30pm, School Chapel). 

- Alice (Year 8, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).



Hello everyone, today I will be introducing you to the LR Brass Department, the first episode in a series of articles in which I will give you an insight into what life is like for aspiring musicians here at La Retraite.  I will be interviewing members of different ensembles and finding out more about their talents and passions. Come with me on this amazing journey!

‘Playing an instrument has been proven to enhance academic results…’

On Monday 13th May I had the pleasure of meeting the La Retraite Brass Department and conducted an interview with brass teacher Miss Hodges and one of her talented students, trumpeter Nekisha (Year 7). It was a fantastic opportunity to discover their personal experiences as brass instrumentalists, as well as their future plans here at La Retraite, and they explained in great detail what it is like being part of the caring, supportive and inspirational music community at our school.

Brass instruments have a leading role in many songs, and can play a variety of styles, from classical to jazz and pop music. Playing an instrument has been proven to enhance academic results, and it is a passion that can also be taken further along in life, whether that is just for leisure or as a potential career. Pursuing your musical interests can also ensure places at some of the best universities across the country, and is a great opportunity to travel and meet artists from all over the world.

‘The Brass Department is currently recruiting aspiring student instrumentalists…’

The Brass Department is currently recruiting aspiring student instrumentalists from Year 7 to Sixth Form, welcoming all to attend a free taster lesson for the opportunity to learn how to play instruments such as the trumpet, trombone and French horn. Classes run weekly for 30 minutes during the school day. Students who play a brass instrument also have the opportunity to join the LR Orchestra (rehearsing Mondays, 3:15 to 4:15pm) and the LR Concert Band (Mondays, 8:15 - 8:45am).  Students participating in these ensembles are able to further improve their musical and team working abilities; they also perform in concerts and attend trips and events throughout the year. For more information regarding brass lessons here at La Retraite, please see Mr Owens or Miss Whitmarsh in the Music Office.

‘Miss Hodges [LR Brass Teacher]…performed with…London Symphony Orchestra…Adele Adkins…Kanye West…’

We are very fortunate to have such an amazing teacher like Miss Hodges here at La Retraite.  Her musical skills are outstanding, her approach to teaching very supportive of the students and her experience extensive.  She has had the opportunity to participate in fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime events throughout her career as a brass instrumentalist. Last week, for example, she performed some contemporary repertoire with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall (Southbank Centre). She has also played for orchestras such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) and the London Contemporary Orchestra (LCO), in venues like the Albert Hall for occasions such as festivals and BBC Proms. She has performed at many concerts across the country and overseas, with her latest festival performance being at Glastonbury, where she played the trumpet in front of thousands of people and millions watching live on national television, alongside famous singer and songwriter Adele Adkins. Playing with Kanye West and featuring in the soundtracks of numerous films (examples being Spiderman 2, Ghost Initial and more recently Alien Covenant) are also among her wonderful experiences. Miss Hodges also teaches children and young people from primary schools to college, including Dulwich College and Trinity College in Greenwich. She described her career as “very exciting and life-enriching”. Her next tour will be the following month, when she will perform in Germany at various concerts and events.

‘With determination and perseverance, you can overcome every obstacle…’

From a very young age, since she first joined a local orchestra in Year 7, Miss Hodges had already recognised that playing the trumpet was going to become her future career, and has worked hard to pursue her passion and make her dreams a reality ever since. She is a great source of inspiration for aspiring instrumentalists and young people in general, and has proven that with determination and perseverance, you can overcome every obstacle and achieve what you set your mind and heart on in life.

‘Learning an instrument and performing in front of an audience has helped me to significantly improve my confidence…’

One of the students who has been inspired by Miss Hodges and has been part of the La Retraite Brass Ensemble since January 2019 is Year 7 pupil Nekisha . She described her experience in the Brass Department so far as “brilliant, different, fun and difficult but rewarding” and is really enjoying playing the trumpet as the music is “catchy and upbeat”. She also finds it “exciting, because you can play all sorts of music” with brass instruments. Her latest performance was at the annual La Retraite Spring Concert where she played alongside other members of the brass ensemble, and she mentioned that “learning an instrument and performing in front of an audience has helped me to significantly improve my confidence, and I hope to participate in more concerts and events in the future”. Nekisha expressed her joy in knowing that her mother is very proud of her when she plays her the latest pieces she has learned at home; recently, she has also devised a pop beat/song of her own.

Learning how to play the trumpet has had social benefits for her as well.  Meeting and working with other members of the ensemble has improved her teamwork and interpersonal skills. When she grows up, Nekisha wants to pursue an acting and performing arts career.  She will continue playing the trumpet, as she has identified that it will be useful for the type of job she wishes to do in the future; also, she believes it will broaden her horizons and abilities, as well as vocally and musically empower her. 

- Alice (Year 8, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).



On Monday 1st April 2019, students from a variety of musical groups (junior chorus, orchestra, A-level class) went to see the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta evening performance at the Southbank Centre in the cultural quarter of central London. The concert featured famous pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Symphony  No. 5’ and Beethoven’s ‘Coriolan Overture’.

Members of the Sinfonietta were all survivors of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.  The evening was not only about music: the survivors shared their personal experiences with the audience, talking about how, by joining the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, their lives had been transformed, and music had brought hope in a town where almost everything had been destroyed by the disaster.

The performance was delightful. The instrumentalists had huge talent, especially as the pieces played weren’t easy. We could see that they were very passionate about what they were doing, and that they were putting their all into it.  Our cello teacher at school (Miss S. Haynes) helped the orchestra in the second half, as the Tchaikovsly symphony needed a bigger sized orchestra.  Miss Haynes explained afterwards that the Japanese players were very inspiring, having learnt to play their instruments largely by themselves, getting to school every day at 7am to practice!

It was a wonderful opportunity to hear their stories and music, to try to understand what it must have been like to lose everything and find joy again in doing something fulfilling and new. It was an evening I will never forget. 

- Alice (Year 8, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).



On Sunday 24th March 2019 selected members of the tour choir had the opportunity to sing at the Sunday mass service of St Anselm’s Church (Tooting Bec). We sang a selection of 2 and 3 part anthems, including: ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ (Rutter); ‘Day By Day’ (How); ‘A Gaelic Blessing’ (Rutter). We attended several rehearsals prior to the service, where the choir directors (music teachers Miss Whitmarsh and Mr Owens) helped us perform to our very best at the service.

On this occasion, we not only improved our musical skills, but also experienced and enjoyed representing the school and its community, as well as participating in a wonderful and enriching religious service.  The church of St Anselm is a beautiful building, with a basilica style area for the sanctuary.  Everyone at the church was extremely friendly and we hope to visit again in the future. 

- Alice (Year 8, Music Department, Chief Correspondent).

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