Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School

Cultural Activities

Old School

A short article about the state of music education in the County of Glamorgan in 1960
by Russell Sheppard, County Music Adviser

Music in Education

from “Welsh Music,” (Guild for the Promotion of Welsh Music),
January 1960


It would take more space than is allowed to give a detailed picture of music in the system of education in Glamorgan. Much of what is written, therefore, may tend to appear as a mere catalogue, but even this should provide some indication of the scope of the work which is being accomplished.

Music is an integral subject in the curriculum at all stages of compulsory education, the emphasis in primary schools being on vocal work, together with percussion and recorder work wherever conditions are favourable. Some primary schools also provide instruction in violin playing. In the secondary schools and the youth service, vocal work is naturally the most prominent feature of music making, but particular attention is also given to the study and practice of instrumental music.

The greatest need at all stages is to produce satisfactory readers of music, since it is the ability to read fluently which ultimately determines to a considerable degree the standard and quality of adult music making.

In addition to meeting the demands of music as an academic subject the grammar schools have often attained high standards of choral work; some schools have produced surprisingly good four-part choirs of mixed voices, in which the senior boys take an important share. During recent year [sic] the following works have been performed:

Acis and Galatea (Handel); Ceremony of Carols (Britten); Christmas Oratorio (Bach); Creation (Haydn); Last Judgment (Sphor); Selections from Messiah (Handel); Requiem (Brahms); Requiem (Faure); Requiem (Mozart); Stabat Mater (Pergolesi).

Festivals of choral music are organised from time to time in various parts of the county. One of the most successful of these was held in Rhondda in 1958 when the grammar schools combined to perform “Scenes from Orpheus” (Gluck).

An annual residential choral course is held for senior pupils of grammar schools. At such a course, held in September last, a choir of 80 singers (24 sopranos, 19 altos, 14 tenors, and 23 basses) studied and performed “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast” (Coleridge Taylor).

Choirs and individual performers compete annually at the County Youth Eisteddfod which has been held without a break since 1942. A non-competitive choral festival was held in Neath in July, 1958, at which a massed mixed choir of 400 singers performed many of the choruses which they had previously sung as test pieces in competition.

During the past ten years increased attention has been given to the development of instrumental music in schools. The encouragement of this branch of music by the County Education Committee dates back to 1926, when it was decided to appoint part-time teachers in the secondary schools. A further decision in 1949 to expand this provision resulted in a marked increase in the number of competent players of orchestral instruments. An important feature of the revised music policy is the provision of musical instruments in schools in order that suitable pupils may borrow them during the early stages of their musical training and before acquiring their own instruments.

The Glamorgan Youth Orchestra was formed in September, 1949. Since that time 43 residential orchestral courses have been held. The number of players has increased from 39 to a full symphony orchestra of 116, with a “reserve” of more than 200 players who are accommodated and given experience in Junior Orchestral Courses. Forty-two public concerts and seven lecture concerts have been held in various towns in the county. Some indication of the music performed is provided by a programme of the concert held at the Central Hall, Bargoed, in July, 1959

Oberon Overture (Weber); Pianoforte Concerto No. 15 in B flat (Mozart); Symphony No. 4 in G (Dvorak); Suite for Orchestra from the Water Music (Handel); Bolero (Ravel).

In order to provide weekly opportunities for orchestral playing, three sections of the orchestra have been formed on Saturday morning of each week. The East Glamorgan Youth Orchestra of 200 players meets at Pontypridd, the Mid-Glamorgan Youth Orchestra of 100 players at Bridgend, and the West Glamorgan Youth Orchestra of 100 players at Neath.

Strong support has been given to the National Youth Orchestra of Wales since its inception, and 64 members of the Glamorgan Youth Orchestra took part in the course of the National Orchestra in August, 1959.

For the great majority of students the playing of a musical instrument is a worthwhile hobby which they will carry into their adult life. For the smaller number who intend to enter the profession of music, either as performer or teacher, the experience gained in the Glamorgan Youth Orchestra forms a valuable foundation for further advanced study.

Brass bands are also encouraged. During recent years ten special courses have been arranged for players of brass instruments. Sixty-one players, whose ages ranged from 10 to 17, attended the most recent course in November, 1959, and gave a very good account of themselves in playing such works as “War March of the Priests” (Mendelssohn).

An extensive library of recorded music is available for the use of schools and approved youth and adult organisations in the County.

Because special emphasis has been given to instrumental and orchestral music-making in recent years, it has almost become fashionable to regard the decline of adult choral music-making with a certain degree of equanimity, since an interest in orchestral music is assumed to have been awakened in its stead. But the upsurge of interest in instrumental music-making could ultimately prove of distinct advantage to choral music-making, since the instrumentalist who takes part in a choir has already overcome the severe handicap which often faces the average chorister, viz., the inability to read music fluently. Much valuable rehearsal time taken up in learning to read the vocal part can then be saved.

If the playing of orchestral instruments is extended even more widely than at present there should be little need to mourn the dearth of good choirs in the future, for the members of any choir would be able to learn and perform a substantial choral work within a month if composed mainly of singers who could also play an instrument. So the renaissance of choral music in Wales may yet be brought about through unremitting support of instrumental music-making.

The Education Committee have done much during the last thirty-five years for the specialised training of music students, whether as performers or teachers. Since 1925 more than 100 music scholarships have been awarded to vocalists, instrumentalists and students of composition. Many well-known musicians—performers, composers, teachers and administrators—began their advanced studies as holders of the Glamorgan Vocal, Instrumental or Mus. Bac. scholarships. The success which has crowned their musical careers is due in no small measure to the support they received at a time when it was most needed.


Towards the Unknown Region

More information about Russell John Sheppard, (1914–99), can be found in the book, “Toward the Unknown Region,” by John Jenkins, (Jenkins 1999),
ISBN 1-902709-04-7.

It includes biographical information, including details of his upbringing in Mountain Ash, and his organ lessons in St Elvan’s Church, Aberdare.

His work with the Glamorgan Education authority is covered, as well as the founding of the orchestra, the youth choir and brass band.

Well worth a read !