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Issues from 1998
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Tough competition in a character building contest

Competition in the House Chorals is tough, and the event has weight..

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Mr Tim Rayner
Head of Senior School

For those familiar with the Scotch calendar, the first Senior School House competition for the year took place on 4 March, a little earlier than usual. While the event is marked in school calendars, its significance and importance as a House experience deserves wider recognition.

All 12 Houses perform on stage in the Memorial Hall, but the ordering of each performance has to be determined, and so in a prior school assembly the names of each House are drawn from a hat. This is almost an event in itself. Going first is perceived as being a challenge; going last is seen as an opportunity to be remembered.

Practice takes place largely in tutor periods, although, as the day of competition looms nearer, it is not uncommon to hear boys practising at lunchtime; such is the pressure to get the performance right. Learning the lyrics and harmonies suddenly becomes important. There is minimal tutor or Head of House involvement in the selection of the song, or indeed who is selected to lead and conduct the group. As we have Years 9 to 12 involved in this activity, the practice for chorals is an effective way for the new boys in each House to get to know other boys.

None of this could be done without the help of the House leaders. Boys with musical experience and flair are leaned on to support and direct. Senior boys, who are old hands, understand the importance of following the instructions given, but also remember past successes and disappointments. It soon becomes clear to the younger members of the House that this is no ordinary singalong.

The House Chorals competition with 12 Houses was first held in 1989 and is now a firm part of the Scotch calendar and tradition. Certainly, there have been quite a number of memorable performances in that time, although some not necessarily for musical reasons.

On first glance, the prospect of having more than 80 boys singing in front of their peers, without scores and with musical accompaniment limited to just two instruments, would seem to be a bit of a tall order. And yes, in some ways it is. However, when the songs are sung and the melodies reverberate around the Memorial Hall, it is very apparent that the boys are putting their best into, what is for some, unfamiliar territory. The euphemistic phrase ‘character building’ springs to mind. Every boy sings and every boy is conscious that a small slip of concentration could lead to his one voice being heard when the rest of his choir is silent.

By looking at a sample of the variety of music performed we begin to get an indication of how hard the House leaders have tried to find the winning song: for example, Help me Rhonda by the Beach Boys, There is Nothing Like a Dame from South Pacific, With a Little Help from my Friends by the Beatles, Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede, which was in the charts in 1974, and the winning song Babu Yetu, the theme to Civilization IV.

Contemporary popular songs were also selected, so the audience is not only entertained by the music; it is also given a lesson on our musical history. It is fascinating to think that in today’s electronic age, a number of our boys know the words to a song from a musical performed in a 1958 film and composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein..

Competition between our 12 Houses of the Upper School is tough, and the competition has weight. It is the first competition of the year and the 36 points for the winner get a House off to a strong start. It is perhaps for these reasons that we choose to invite a suitably qualified judge from outside the school, as this will ensure that bias does not occur. Old Boys, therefore, need not apply!

At the end of the competition, all of the Houses are seated, and while the judge makes a decision the nervous audience is entertained by the Cardinals. This is a fitting end to the morning’s performance. The boys listen, appreciate, and reflect on who they think will win the competition.

The first five places are announced in reverse order and the winner receives the trophy, there and then, to much applause. Recess and classes follow, but it would be fair to say that most of the conversations that day involve comments about who won, where a House was placed and, of course, if the judge got it right. Congratulations are given and some boys, at least, walk around the school with modest smiles. Heads of Houses and tutors are not immune to also becoming heartily involved in the day’s events.

By the week’s end, attention moves on to the next opportunity for points to be gained. The following week is House swimming and boys have to prepare and organise their teams for different challenges. House leaders will have already marked the key dates in their calendars, all the way to Family Day. And so the teamwork, cooperation and support will continue..

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ABOVE: (TOP) YEAR 12 LAWSON STUDENTS, WINNERS OF THE HOUSE CHORALS COMPETITION, CELEBRATE THEIR VICTORY. STANDING, LEFT TO RIGHT: MATTHEW ALTMANN, JAMES KIOUSSIS (VICE CAPTAIN), TOM HAMER, LACHLAN STRATHMORE (HOUSE CAPTAIN AND CONDUCTOR), JAMES DOUGLAS, TRISTAN CLIFF. KNEELING, LEFT TO RIGHT: SAM DAWBORN, BEN NICHOLLS, REHN SMITH. SITTING: SAM WEST.

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BOTTOM: LAWSON STUDENTS WITH THEIR TUTORS AND HEAD OF HOUSE, MRS PAULINE WESTMORE.

Updated: 3 October 2016