St Mary's has a long tradition of outstanding music-making stretching back well over a century; the diaries kept by former Headmistress Miss Matthews and Director of Music Miss Nesbitt are full of fascinating programmes and anecdotes of concerts given by staff and students, often with quite acerbic commentary on their quality!



Programme of a Schubert Concert given by the school in summer 1923.

Today we continue this tradition: performance of the highest quality is supported by scholarship and understanding. The school is blessed with excellent facilities in a purpose-built four-storey music school. A delightful recital room with panoramic views and rewarding acoustics sits above 15 dedicated practice rooms all with modern pianos, and a state-of-the art studio is equipped with the latest technology for recording and composition. We also have a dedicated computer suite. The Chapel, at the heart of the school, is the main concert venue, and with each boarding house having a piano, music is heard in both formal and informal settings throughout the day.

The aim of our Music curriculum is for students to become global citizens, with a deep understanding of music’s place in culture and society, able confidently to make music of their own, to appreciate the music of others, and to work creatively and collaboratively to achieve ambitious outcomes. We believe that every child has the capacity for music-making and seek to enable all to succeed.

Fourth Form (Key Stage 3) Curriculum

All Fourth Form students study Music as a timetabled academic subject. The lessons centre around practical, skill-based learning and the curriculum is purposely diverse with a variety of music from different cultures being studied. There is a strong focus on the use of ICT at all levels and on building independence and creativity through small-group research, composition and performance. The curriculum and topics studied are under constant review and so as to allow girls as varied, up-to-date and rigorous an experience as possible. The Music department regularly arranges activities for students in Donaldson Week, such as visits to the Gamelan at the Southbank Centre for UIV, and a songwriting day based on the hip-hop musical Hamilton for MIV.

 LIV (Year 7) and MIV (Year 8) have timetabled Music lessons weekly. The LIV curriculum comprises:

  • The Elements of Music and an introduction to Western music notation
  • Baroque Music
  • Indian Classical Music
  • Spirituals
  • Music of West Africa

The whole of LIV also sings in the Junior Choir, which meets weekly and performs in school concerts and services.

Students in MIV (Year 8) study:

  • The Blues and improvisation
  • Samba
  • Programme Music
  • MIV Live Lounge (a song performance project)

Students in UIV (Year 9) study Music on a carousel system for half the year and their curriculum comprises:

  • Songwriting
  • Film Music
  • Minimalism
  • Gamelan

UIV students opting to ‘major’ in Music, with a timetabled lesson each week, study these courses in more depth and additionally study Music for Dance.

GCSE and A Level Music

Older students choose Music as an option, following the rigorous Edexcel GCSE and A Level specifications. Academic results are outstanding at GCSE and A Level, the small class sizes (typically 8 or 9 at GCSE and 2 at A Level) allowing individuals to flourish and giving plenty of opportunity for challenge. Most A Level Music students will also study for ABRSM Grade 6 or 8 Music Theory during their timetabled lessons, furnishing them with valuable extra UCAS points, and in the UVI they enjoy a weekly individual session with the school’s Graduate Accompanist. Students regularly go on to read Music at Russell Group universities or to take up choral scholarships – regardless of their chosen subject – at Oxford and Cambridge.

Both courses centre around the study of set works (8 at GCSE, 13 at A Level) in a variety of styles and genres from Bach and Beethoven to the Beatles and electronic dance music. The disciplines of listening to and evaluating music and placing it in its cultural context are assessed in an examination worth 40% of the qualification; the remainder of the GCSE or A Level is earned through performance and composition coursework.

Music Theory

Students taking instrumental or vocal lessons are invited to Music Theory classes free of charge in order to support their practical learning and prepare them for ABRSM Grade 5 – a prerequisite for practical grade exams at Grade 6 and above. Theory classes run throughout the week to enable all to attend in small groups, and are taught by academic Music staff. There are opportunities for keen students to study higher theory grades if they choose; these higher grades focus on compositional techniques such as figured bass, counterpoint and melody writing and are highly regarded by university Music departments.

Dr Daisy Gibbs (Head of Academic Music)