Can music impact our health?

Sophie, Year 9, asks if and how music can impact our mental and physical health.

Music is everywhere. Wherever we go, no matter where, there will be some sort of tune or melody coming from someplace or another. Virtually all species, from the most primitive to the most modern, make music. In tune or not, our species sing and play, or clap and drum. Music is a cardinal aspect of our lives. The human brain and nervous system are programmed to distinguish music, rhythm and tones from noise and other sounds. Is this a biological accident, or does it serve a purpose? There might be no definite answer, but one could suggest from studies that music may enhance human health.


Music has always been a source of expressing people’s feelings, venting emotions and communicating with others, through words and notation. The soothing power of music is well-identified – it can have a big impact on our mental health. It can also have a strong link to our emotions, and, as a result, can be a brilliant form of stress relief. Listening to music can be relaxing for our mind and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music has a beneficial effect by slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure and decreasing the levels of stress hormones. For example, studies[1] show that listening to music with headphones has reduced stress and anxiety in hospital patients before and after surgery. Listening to music can also relieve depression and increase the self-esteem of elderly people.

Music can also absorb our attention and can get rid of any distractions. This means it can be a focus technique as it keeps our mind from wandering. However, music with no structure and no form can have a negative impact on our emotions and can be unsettling and irritating. This is why gentle music with a simple melody is also more comforting. Familiar melodies bring a sense of calmness, awareness and it can be more comforting. The sounds of nature often are incorporated into CDs specifically to target relaxation. The sound of water or leaves or birdsong can be soothing for some. It can help picture calming images and help our minds slow down.

As well as calming, and being a stress relief, music can be a source of happiness. It has the ability to make people of all ages feel cheerful and energetic and could even lift the mood of people with depressive illnesses. A recent study[2] announced that scores of depressive symptoms (extending from 0-60) improved on average 4.65 more with the music therapy than standard care alone. In 2006 a study of sixty adults with chronic pain found that music was able to reduce pain and depression[3]. In 2009 there was another study stating that music assisted relaxation can improve the quality of sleep in patients with sleeping disorders[4].

Some skilled composers manipulate our emotions by knowing what the listeners’ expectations are and controlling when the expectations may (or may not) be met. Composers also change their music to fit our emotions. They will use specific techniques to make us feel a certain way. These techniques could include; tempo (a fast tempo could provoke an energetic feeling, whilst a slow tempo might induce feelings of sadness or tiredness), tonality (major linked to positive and minor negative), dynamics (forte – loud – may portray bold or confident, whilst piano – quiet – could be more subtle).

Some of these factors may cause the listener to maybe start swaying side to side or tapping our feet or nodding our head. This is connected to the dopamine drug which is linked to the pleasure of music. Neuroimaging studies have proven that music can activate the brain areas typically associated with emotions. The deep brain structures that are part of the limbic system like the amygdala or hippocampus as well as the pathways that transmit dopamine (for pleasure associated with music listening). The relationship between listening to music and the dopaminergic pathway is what is behind the ‘chills’ that people claim to experience whilst listening to music[5]. These chills are physiological sensations, like hairs getting raised on your arms, goosebumps down your leg and ‘shivers down your spine’ that is linked to chills.

Whatever your musical preference, understanding that music has a significant impact on our mental and physical health is central to knowing more about the immense power this art has on us. As Napoleon once said, “music is what tells us the human race is greater than we realise.”









A review of the Musical Theatre Concert & how to engage young people of different ages in musicals

Ms Katie Butler, Performing Arts Assistant, looks back to our recent Musical Theatre Concert here at WHS, as well as how we can engage different age groups in this popular form.

From Tap Dancing to Trunchbull

This year’s Musical Theatre Concert featured a selection of solos, duets and group numbers, with the very on-brand Wimbledon High theme of “Imagine”. This enabled us to tie numbers together through a common thread, while still allowing us to explore all sorts of different styles and stories. We hired in professional choreographer Lily Howkins to help create more specialised dance numbers, along with a brilliant three-piece band who really brought the music to life. This concert showcases the singing and dancing talents of girls across the senior school, providing a chance for Year 7s to perform with Sixth Formers, and for younger girls to have a taste of solo singing without the pressure of a whole show.

Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd was the WHS Senior Musical, with performances in January 2019

After Lilly and Emma kicked off the show with ‘Pure Imagination’ from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we enjoyed Year 8’s spectacular ‘Revolting Children’ from Matilda, featuring ten girls stepping out of their sensible Wimbledon High personas and into a rebellious, anti-Trunchbull mob, with ties tied around their heads and hockey sticks as weapons. We featured more Year 8 talent in the upbeat, energetic Hollywood party number ‘Someone in the Crowd’ from La La Land, with Lauren, Amelia, Phoebe and Alyssa combining pitch-perfect vocals with challenging choreography to their usual high standard.

Another choreography highlight was the tap-toed delight that was ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, with Melody and Lizzy’s vocals combined with the brilliant tap skills of Jasmine and Shangavi. Musical theatre stalwart Erin gave a convincing performance as Evan Hansen, showing real resilience and deftly taking on various characters throughout the night. Sweeney Todd’s ‘By the Sea’ and ‘Seventeen’ from Heathers were presented together, as despite the different musical styles and the twenty-five years between their creation, they explore very similar themes of women trying to convince murderous men to live a normal life with them. For the latter, Erin was joined by Lizzie, who also showcased her fantastic vocal versatility in the contrasting ‘I Feel Pretty’. All in all, it was a wonderful celebration of dramatic skill and musicianship from the entire WHS community.

Little Shop of Horrors
This dramatic moment from Little Shop of Horrors – the Year 9 and 10 musical in June 2018

Curating a Programme

As a facilitator of these kinds of events, the challenge for me was to choose a programme that was varied, interesting, and age-appropriate, engaging all the girls. Appreciation of musical theatre, and indeed of all strands of the arts and storytelling deepens with age, maturity, and life experience, and personal development is particularly accelerated during these teenage years; it’s the reason that Year 11 can sob their way through Les Miserables, yet many Year 8s are twiddling their thumbs by ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, and I was keen to curate a concert that reflected this and provided something for everyone to enjoy.

While we had Year 12 Izzy performing the wistful ‘The Movie in My Mind’ from Miss Saigon, a ballad by a Thai showgirl during the Vietnam War dreaming of a better life, we also enjoyed Izzy from Year 8’s delicately beautiful rendition of ‘Jenny’s Piano Song’ from Howard Goodall’s little-known 2010 musical Love Story (an adaptation of the 1970 film), as well as Anna’s (Year 11) infectiously positive ‘I Can Hear the Bells’ from Hairspray.

The key to a successful programme is contrast – and so with powerhouse, belting performances like Anna’s and Eleni’s rendition of ‘Let Me Be Your Star’ from NBC’s Smash, we also had numbers like Anna’s (Year 13) genuine and engaging ‘I’m Not Afraid of Anything’ from Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle Songs for a New World, and Eleni’s other number, the vulnerable ‘When He Sees Me’ from Waitress, showing off her real versatility as an actress, and brilliant comic timing.

Other performances included the wittily staged ‘Show Off’ from The Drowsy Chaperone by Jasmine & Lilly in Year 12, and the always brilliant Musical Theatre Choir taking on an arrangement of Hamilton’s Helpless that even girls much older and more experienced would have found challenging. As Year 7 girls took to the stage with a lively Disney medley, featuring solos from Melina, Martha, Hannah and Sophia, it was clear that the future of musical theatre at Wimbledon High is in very safe hands. We ended the show with two more similar numbers: ‘The Life I Never Led’ from Sister Act and ‘Nothing Stops Another Day’ from Ghost, sensitively performed by Millie and Shangavi (Year 12) respectively, followed by a rousing ‘We’re All In This Together’ from the upcoming Year 9 & 10 production of High School Musical.

Musical Theatre: more than jazz hands

Having a concert solely dedicated to musical theatre, and particularly lots of different numbers from different shows, allows students to experiment with the differences between acting through song compared to acting through prose, and how despite the snobbery that often surrounds it, musical theatre absolutely provides as much opportunity to get stuck into interesting, complicated characters as straight theatre.

For next year’s concert, I’m keen to develop this further, delving into shows by writers like Sondheim that challenge these stereotypes better than anything else. As a writer of musical theatre myself, I’m particularly interested in using platforms like this to explore adolescent pastoral themes, and with shows like Dear Evan Hansen and Heathers featured, we were able to open up conversations about darker issues like mental health, bullying and violence in schools, performing songs from musicals that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate as school productions, but that are absolutely worthy of attention and that many of the girls know and love.

I also hope that it introduced both cast and audience to some lesser-known shows, further fuelling their interest in and passion for musicals, and that it demonstrates the versatility of musical theatre as an art form, showing that it isn’t all jazz hands and happy endings, but can be a medium to explore all manner of themes, issues and musical styles.

Review: WHS @Cadogan Hall 2019

Three WHS pupils – Lara, Lizzy and Laura – reflect on the recent WHS concert at Cadogan Hall, where girls in WHS Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia, Baroque Ensemble, Canto and A Cappella performed to a full house.

Lara (Year 7)

It was a privilege to perform in Cadogan Hall which is a very famous, beautiful music hall in Sloane Square dating back to 1907 that has hosted some of the greatest performances of all time. Its number of staircases, dressing rooms, corridors (and lack of signposts!) shows that the entire building was built to impress and a lot of the backstage is just as ornate as the front room itself. It’s wonderful acoustic and scenery lent itself very well to repertoire we did. I, for one, really enjoyed learning pieces by the likes of Brahms, Prokofiev, Mozart, Whitacre and Marquez in Symphony Orchestra, Canto and Sinfonia. In Symphony Orchestra, most of the songs stemmed back to a dance style with pieces such as Brahms’ first Hungarian Dance, a Conga by Marquez and Danza Ritual Fuego by De Falla. These pieces were all really fun to play with a strong sense of movement and liveliness. In the second half, Canto and A Cappella got the chance to perform with tenors and basses- a rare opportunity in an all-girls school. The Mozart Requiem took up most of the second half of the concert – being in Sinfonia, we got to accompany the choir – a new experience for me. We particularly enjoyed performing all these great pieces in such a prestigious venue.

Lizzie B. (Year 11)

Rehearsals for the concert started as far back as the mid-stages of the Autumn term as there was lots of challenging material to learn, both individually and then putting it together as ensembles. Preparations, however, had been going on even many months before that by the amazing music teachers to select and arrange repertoire that we would enjoy playing and which would show off our abilities. Over all this time each of the ensembles rehearsed for a minimum of an hour each week, not taking into account private practice. This is an especially impressive amount considering that most girls are involved in more than one group, displaying the incredible commitment, enthusiasm and engagement of everyone who performed at Cadogan Hall. Furthermore, as the concert drew nearer, the girls in A Cappella and Sinfonia were involved in a 4-hour long Saturday morning rehearsal during which they first sang with the professional tenor and basses, a really challenging task which was achieved with true Wimbledonian spirit and significant amounts of coffee. Finally, on the day we arrived from 12:30 at Cadogan Hall for our final run-through of the concert, getting used to the slightly different sound due to the addition of professional musicians playing parts we weren’t used to hearing. Then the concert began…

Laura F. (Year 12)

It is incredible to see how WHS’s music-making has progressed over the years we have been playing at Cadogan Hall. This year we saw the addition of four trombone players to the orchestra, as a result of a new scheme teaching trombone in school, and with the twelve-strong brass section, the orchestra was able to perform repertoire such as Prokofiev’s intense ‘Dance of the Knights’ from Romeo and Juliet. The concert included music written over a span of two hundred years from Mozart to Whitacre, showing the breadth of repertoire in the ensembles. In the first half of the concert, the Baroque Ensemble played a rousing rendition of Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite, a challenging four-movement work that celebrated string playing at school. The intermezzo and 3rd movement of the suite that included violin and viola solos, played sensitively by A Level students Miriam and Louisa, were a highlight of the performance, providing some calm contrast before the energetic 4th Movement. At the end of the concert, the year 13s were thanked onstage, as it was their last Cadogan Hall concert; their enthusiasm and participation in musical events will be greatly missed next year. We have all loved preparing for the concert and are so grateful to have had the opportunity to play in such a fantastic venue.

Does taking part in co-curricular activities really improve academic outcomes?

Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships at Wimbledon High, looks at the links between co-curricular activities and the impact these can have on academic outcomes in the classroom.

There has been much research over the years investigating the link between Sport and its benefits – not only to a healthy lifestyle – but to the academic progress of students in schools and universities.  Research has shown that regular physical activity leads to improvements in a range of cognitive functions, including information processing, attention and executive function (Chaddock et al. 2011). However, does involvement in any co-curricular club facilitate academic outcomes?


Can you think of a time when you have ever been so absorbed in an activity that you have completely lost track of time? That whatever you were doing was challenging, totally captivating, was extending your skills and you were virtually operating in the subconscious? If you can, it’s likely that you were experiencing a phenomenon known as ‘flow’. Psychologist Csikszentmihalyi writing in the 1960s researched this initially with it really coming to the forefront of sports psychology in the 1990s.

He described it as:

“A deeply rewarding and optimal experience characterised

by intense focus on a specific activity

to the point of becoming totally absorbed in it”

Csikszentmihalyi suggested that experiencing ‘flow’ makes us happier and more successful, which in turn leads to increased performance. To get to this point, he pointed out that tasks have to be constantly challenging which in turn results in personal growth and development. This doesn’t mean that we always have to be in a state of optimal performance, but more that we are fully immersed in the process of the task in hand, as shown in the diagram below:

Activities & Flow diagram by Csikszentmihalyi

‘Flow’ experiences can happen as part of everyday life, and Csikszentmihalyi suggested overlearning a concept or a skill can help people experience flow. Within a sporting context, it is sometimes referred to a “being in the zone”, experiencing a loss of self-consciousness and feeling a sense of complete mastery.


In addition to overlearning, another key component of finding ‘flow’ is doing activities that we are intrinsically motivated to take part in. This means work and activities that we feel real meaning behind and enjoy doing for the sake of doing. Financial gain, awards and praise can be by-products of the ‘flow’ activities you do, but they cannot be the core motivation behind what you’re doing. Csikszentmihalyi even goes further, saying the feeling should be “such that often the end goal is just an excuse for the process.”

Academic success

So why is this relevant to our school co-curricular programme and can it be linked to academic success?  The links here are two-fold.

Firstly, the co-curricular programme is designed to inspire and enhance the general learning of new skills and concepts. It gives us more time to focus on over-learning a skill or concept because there is no pressure of being examined, therefore no exact specification or course content to get through. We have the luxury of taking our time, over-rehearsing, over practising to a point of taking part in an activity with a loss of sub-consciousness. We may repeat skills so frequently because we revisit them two, three, four, seven, eight times a week, (think of rowing, drama, and music to name just three activities that have repeat weekly sessions), that the feeling of knowing a skill, a sequence, a technique really well and performing is sub-consciously really does happen.

Secondly, with this feeling of ‘flow’ comes those ‘magic moments’ we can all benefit from at any point during the day. The mere fact we are immersed in activity we enjoy could result in us being ‘in the zone’. We are busy immersed in something which is likely to mean we are automatically not thinking about an essay, a grade, a piece of coursework, a friendship or relationship issue at that time and so as a consequence that time contributes enormously to our state of well-being and happiness. This, in turn, is highly likely to lead to a more productive ‘head space’ for work when we return to it, less procrastinating, greater focus and possibly better outcomes.

So can we draw a link between participation in co-curricular activities and academic outcomes? There is research to indicate we can….. happy reading!


  • Chaddock, L., C. H. Hillman, S. M. Buck, and N. J. Cohen. 2011. “Aerobic Fitness and Executive Control of Relational Memory in Preadolescent Children.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 43 (2): 344–349.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row
  • Bailey R. (2016): Sport, physical activity and educational achievement – towards an explanatory model, Sport in Society



What are the links between romance languages and music?

Matilda, Year 13, investigates the links between romance languages and music to discover whether the learning of one can help in the understanding of the other.

Music and language

It is often said that music is the ‘universal language of mankind’, due to its great expressive powers which have the ability to convey sentiments and emotions.

But what are the connections between music and languages?

A romance language is a language derived from Latin and this group of languages has many similarities in both grammar and vocabulary. The 5 most widely spoken romance languages are Spanish (with 470 million speakers), Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian.

There are 3 main connections between languages and music:


The first of these is the role of melody in recall:

There is a link between languages and music in remembering words. This is shown in a study where words were better recalled when learned as a song rather than a speech. This is because melody and rhythm give the memory cues to help recall information.[1]

Language, music, and emotion:

The British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist who specialises in primate behaviour, Robin Dunbar, says that music and language help to knit people together in social groups. This is because musicians process music as a language in their heads. Studies have shown the planum temporal in the brain is active in all people whilst listening to music.

However, in non-musicians, the right-hand side was the most active, meanwhile, in musicians, the left side dominated, this is the side believed to control language processing. This shows that musicians understand music as a language in their brain.

In another study, scientists analysed the Broca’s area, which is crucial in language and music comprehension. It is also responsible for our ability to use syntax. Research has shown the in the Broca’s area of the brain, musicians have a greater volume of grey matter, suggesting that it is responsible for both speech and music comprehension.

The relationship between music and languages:

Brain and Languages Both music and languages share the same building blocks as they are compositional. By this, I mean that they are both made of small parts that are meaningless alone but when combined can create something larger and meaningful.

For example, the words ‘I’, ‘love’ and ‘you,’ do not mean much individually, however, when they are constructed in a sentence, carry a deep sentimental value. This goes the same for music notes, which when combined can create a beautiful, purposeful meaning.

Musical training has been shown to improve language skills.[2] In a study carried out in 2011, developmental psychologists in Germany conducted a study to examine the relationship between development of music and language skills. In the experiment, they separated children aged 4 into 2 groups, 1 of these groups receiving musical training, and one did not.

Later on, they measured their phonological ability (the ability to use and manipulate language) and they discovered the children who had received music lessons were better at this. Therefore, this shows that learning and understanding language can go hand in hand with musical learning and ability.


[1] See
[2] See

Being a Music Scholar at WHS

Clara and Lara, the WHS Year 7 Music Scholars, describe how their first term as scholars has gone and the opportunities that being a scholar has given them so far.

Lara (Year 7)

The thing I love most about being a music scholar (in addition to the great refreshments at concerts) is the opportunities it presents. From various concerts – to writing this article! I think all of these opportunities have helped me grow as a musician.

First, the Autumn Scholars’ concert. I had watched a scholars’ concert before, whilst in the junior school, and I remember thinking how amazing they were and how they made no mistakes. So, when the Scholars’ concert came around this term, I was absolutely petrified from a week before the concert. Half hyperventilating, I managed to get through the concert – and did well. I really enjoyed hearing the other music scholars play; they are all incredible musicians playing challenging music.

Another experience the music scholarship has given me is attending school concerts. When I initially heard we had to go to a series of these concerts, I must admit, I was slightly sceptical. So, when the piano competition came, Clara and I arranged to come together so we didn’t get bored. However, I didn’t get bored at all! I’m really glad I went to the competition and it was great listening to all the pianists; there were many points where my jaw physically dropped. If I had known how much I would enjoy it I would’ve done it in my spare-time anyway, and would encourage everyone to have the same attitude. I really enjoy being a music scholar, despite the occasional pre-concert nerves. The extra-curricular prospects it presents are wide and varied.

Clara (Year 7)

I sat with Lara to watch the piano competition, and am very excited to see her in the brass competition early next year. I really enjoy the support that the other music scholars give me. For example, when I had just finished performing my piece in the Scholars’ recital, and, as usual, I thought I had made mistakes (which I am sure they noticed too, as they are such good musicians), they still all cheered and clapped, which made me feel very special. I never feel being a music scholar is a burden, but I had fretted that my audience would expect me to play faultlessly at all times. Mr Bristow and the Music Department staff don’t, the other scholars and music teachers don’t, my friends don’t. Instead, all support us to play our best and acknowledge that the best musical performances are not necessarily the ones that are note perfect. We all just try to have fun playing different styles of music in different ways.

I have found even more opportunities to participate in different groups musically than I imagined, having fun, and without fear of making a fool of myself.  I really like the opportunity to be in ensembles with girls in different year groups – including Baroque Ensemble, which has girls from Year 7 to Year 13 in. I’m really excited about performing in Cadogan Hall in March 2019. I am loving doing so much music, but I am also finding time to do other things I enjoy, one of which is sport.  I have managed to sort out any clashes between sport and music, so I can fulfil the requirements of being a music scholar, but still do the sports I really enjoy.

The instruments you may hear us on are – cello, double bass, piano, trumpet and voice – the rest, one of the other scholars or orchestra members should have covered!

The importance of collaborative learning

How can we encourage collaborative learning? Alex Farrer, STEAM Co-ordinator at Wimbledon High, looks at strategies to encourage creative collaboration in the classroom.

Pupils’ ability to work collaboratively in the classroom cannot just be assumed. Pupils develop high levels of teamwork skills in many areas of school life such as being part of a rowing squad or playing in an ensemble. These strengths are also being harnessed in a variety of subject areas but need to be taught and developed within a coherent framework.  Last week we were very pleased to learn that Wimbledon High was shortlisted for the TES Independent Schools Creativity Award 2019. This recognises the development of STEAM skills such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity and curiosity across the curriculum. Wimbledon High pupils are enjoying tackling intriguing STEAM activities in a variety of subject areas. One important question to ask is what sort of progression should we expect as pupils develop these skills?

The Science National Curriculum for England (D of E 2015) outlines the “working scientifically” skills expected of pupils from year 1 upwards. Pupils are expected to answer scientific questions in a range of different ways such as in an investigation where variables can be identified and controlled and a fair test type of enquiry is possible.

However, this is not the only way of “working scientifically”. Pupils also need to use different approaches such as identifying and classifying, pattern seeking, researching and observing over time to answer scientific questions. In the excellent resource “It’s not Fair -or is it?” (Turner, Keogh, Naylor and Lawrence) useful progression grids are provided to help teachers identify the progression that might be expected as pupils develop these skills. For example, when using research skills younger pupils use books and electronic media to find things out and talk about whether an information source is useful. Older pupils can use relevant information from a range of secondary sources and evaluate how well their research has answered their questions.

The skills that are used in our STEAM lessons at Wimbledon High in both the Senior and Junior Schools utilise many of these “working scientifically” skills and skill progression grids can be very useful when planning and pitching lessons. However, our STEAM lessons happen in all subject areas and develop a range of other skills including:

  • problem solving
  • teamwork
  • creativity
  • curiosity

Carefully planned cross-curricular links allow subjects that might at first glance be considered to be very different from each other to complement each other. An example of this is a recent year 10 art lesson where STEAM was injected into the lesson in the form of chemistry knowledge and skills. Pupils greatly benefited from the opportunity to put some chemistry into art and some art into chemistry as they studied the colour blue. Curiosity was piqued and many links were made. Many questions were asked and answered as pupils worked together to learn about Egyptian Blue through the ages and recent developments in the use of the pigment for biomedical imaging.

There are many other examples of how subjects are being combined to enhance both. The physiological responses to listening to different types of music made for an interesting investigation with groups of year 7. In this STEAM Music lesson pupils with emerging teamwork skills simply shared tasks between members of the group. Pupils with more developed teamwork skills organised and negotiated different roles in the group depending on identified skills. They also checked progress and adjusted how the group was working in a supportive manner. A skill that often takes considerable practise for many of us!

Professor Roger Kneebone from Imperial College promotes the benefits of collaborating outside of your own discipline. He recently made the headlines when he discussed the dexterity skills of medical students. He talks about the ways students taking part in an artistic pursuit, playing a musical instrument or a sport develop these skills. He believes that surgeons are better at their job if they have learned those skills that being in an orchestra or a team demand.  High levels of teamwork and communication are essential to success in all of those fields, including surgery!

Ensuring that we give pupils many opportunities to develop these collaborative skills both inside and outside of lessons is key. We must have high expectations of progression in the way that pupils are developing these skills. Regular opportunities to extend and consolidate these important skills is also important. It is essential to make it clear to pupils at the start of the activity what the skill objective is and what the skill success criteria is. It is hard to develop a skill if it is not taught explicitly, so modelling key steps is helpful as is highlighting the following to pupils:

  • Why are we doing this activity?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does it link to the subject area?
  • How does it link to the real life applications?
  • What skills are we building?
  • Why are these skills important?
  • What sort of problems might be encountered?
  • How might we deal with these problems?

Teacher support during the lesson is formative and needs to turn a spotlight on successes, hitches, failures, resilience, problems and solutions. For example, the teacher might interrupt learning briefly to point out that some groups have had a problem but after some frustrations, one pupil’s bright idea changed their fortunes. The other groups are then encouraged to refocus and to try to also find a good way to solve a specific problem. There might be a reason why problems are happening. Some groups may need some scaffolding or targeted questioning to help them think their way through hitches.

STEAM lessons at Wimbledon High are providing extra opportunities for pupils to build their confidence, and to be flexible, creative and collaborative when faced with novel contexts. These skills need to be modelled and developed and progression needs to be planned carefully. STEAM is great fun, but serious fun, as the concentration seen on faces in the STEAM space show!

Twitter: @STEAM_WHS

Happiness Festival 2018: Peace Edition

Wimbledon High School Happiness Festival 2018

Ava (Head Girl, Y13) talks about the latest of Wimbledon High’s annual Happiness Festivals, discussing what makes such an event special and uniquely Wimbledonian.

Last Friday marked a truly extraordinary day in Wimbledon High School’s calendar: Happiness Festival 2018. From start to end, the day served as a wonderful reminder of all the warmth and support ever-present here within the walls of WHS.

When the Student Leaders and I sat down to start the task of planning the event some months ago, we thought long and hard about the properties of happiness we wanted to focus on. For us, we decided that happiness could be explained through a combination of inner peace and global peace and subsequently decided the theme of this year’s event would be “Peace”, providing a perfect tie-in to concurrent celebrations of Remembrance.

The day itself provided many opportunities for contemplative reflection, along with moments of pure fun and laughter. Our inaugural FeelGoodFest opened the event, a combination of effortlessmusic performances, beautiful poetry and heartfelt messages read aloud by students from all years. Particularly prominent in the morning’s proceedings was a lovely sense of friendship, provided not only by girls themselves thanking their friends for supporting them through thick and thin, but also through a heartwarming rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve got a friend” from Louisa and Anna (Year 13).

Later in the day, as part of our “Laughternoon” festivities, students and staff were treated to a very special performance from comedy duo Harry and Chris, who have appeared on The Russell Howard Hour and sold out three consecutive Edinburgh Fringe shows. This was a real treat indeed, with giggles heard all across the room. Harry and Chris ended their performance with a funny yet touching message of self-love, encouraging everyone to remind themselves that they are “a ten” every once in a while.

A huge thanks must of course go to The Music Department, House Captains and Music Rep for the fabulous House Music event in the afternoon, which may or may not have included a whole-school dance-along to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, a firm Wimbledonian favourite. It was lovely to see students of all ages putting themselves forward to compete on behalf of their houses; a special mention goes to Meredith for winning the House Song category, and to Arnold for their win in the House Ensemble category.

Overall, the day left me with a real sense of the enduring nature of “Wimbledonian Spirit”, with girls smiling through the wet weather and wholeheartedly engaging in the entirety of the event. A final thank you goes to the staff and sixth-formers who led sessions on Inner Peace and Global Peace throughout the day, and to all those who contributed to the organisation of the event, a real WHS team-effort!

I have to agree with the smiling Year 7 who left the school gates on Friday Afternoon with a resolute “well, that was fun”. I couldn’t agree more.

Forging new relationships; the value of school partnerships – 28/09/18

Mr Richard Bristow, Director of Music here at WHS, looks at school partnerships and how external groups can enhance the academic and co-curricular programme, discussing a new partnership between WHS and the Jigsaw Players.

Partnerships have become increasingly important to schools since the turn of the Millennium, with a significant number of schools in both the State and Independent sectors working together in various ways. Broadly speaking there are two different types of school partnership: formal and informal.

Formal partnerships

A formal partnership will often involve a strategic merger between two or more schools, who might operate under the same trust with a central CEO or Executive Headteacher. The GDST, of which Wimbledon High is proudly a part of, is in this type of partnership with 25 schools (including 2 Academies) across the UK working closely together to provide the very best education for girls. In the State sector, this might involve the merger of an Academy Trust with several different schools working under the same central leadership team; a local example would be the Harris Federation, where 47 different academies – Primary and Secondary – operate within the same charitable trust.

The GDST Network in numbers

Informal partnerships

The informal partnership, however, involves smaller links between schools that retain their autonomy and own decision-making at a strategic level. This could be between two similar schools – for example the OWLS project between Oxford High and Wimbledon High (OWLS standing for Oxford and Wimbledon Leading Scholarship). This is where two schools work closely together to craft a vision to enhance an aspect of their shared goals, sharing resources, good practice and enabling the pupils and staff to develop their skills.[1]

These informal partnerships also exist between Independent and State Schools, as detailed below.

Teach Together

In late 2014, the Department of Education granted a significant amount of money to various different partnerships across the UK, focusing specifically on the primary curriculum. Various different projects occurred throughout the country, from developing coding skills to organising MFL challenge days. Wimbledon High was involved in this project, forming a Teach Together partnership with St Boniface RC Primary School to engage pupils with the science curriculum through storytelling and narrative. This partnership continues to this day with weekly links between the schools with our Enrichment programme.

This partnership has significant benefit to both schools, and this is essential for the partnership to work effectively. Both schools need to put in and get something out of the partnership to avoid it from lacking equality. In this case, WHS girls from Year 11-13 consolidate their scientific knowledge and understanding by teaching scientific concepts in a new way to Key Stage 2 pupils. This not only helps the pupils they are teaching, but develops the older pupils’ ability to communicate with others, encouraging them to look outwards, to support others and be ready to shape the society in which they live. Thus partnership work also meets one of Wimbledon High’s key aims. By ensuring both sides of the arrangement are getting something they require out of the partnership, it is far more likely to succeed. If it was a one-sided agreement, where only one side was gaining from the arrangement, the chances of success would rapidly diminish.

When asked the question ‘Have you seen notable progress?’ the feedback is overwhelmingly positive from both sides, including

  • From WHS Staff: “Yes, in interest & excitement in science. Pupils have produced projects which reflect the time they have spent to continue on these themes & also class room displays linked to our visits.”
  • From WHS Pupils: “I get to see the delight of the pupils in learning new things… developing my confidence and resilience” and “[I have more] confidence in my abilities as I am able to fully teach new concepts to children in maths. [I have] an insight into how far I have come with maths as I reflect “
  • From St Boniface Pupils: “The lesson I enjoyed the most was when we went to Wimbledon High School and learned about Light. I have enjoyed going outside to try new experiments”


WHS also hosts the nationally-recognised SHINE programme. This is an education charity seeking to turn potential into success, and at WHS this is presented as ‘Serious Fun on Saturdays’, with 24 Year 4 and 5 primary pupils coming to WHS to learn a range of topics based around the idea of ‘Reaching for the Stars’. Some of the activities include making frisbees in DT, learning to bake, understanding more about astrology in Geography and learning how to perform as an ensemble in Music. Each pupil is given a WHS mentor from Year 12, allowing these pupils to develop their mentoring skills.

External agencies

These links between schools – where skills and resources are shared to develop both sides of the partnership – are of vital importance. However, schools are also increasingly offering new partnerships using external agencies and providers which are open to the whole local community.

A new partnership from September 2018 is the partnership between Wimbledon High School Music Department and the Jigsaw Players. The Jigsaw Players are a Not-for-Profit concert series based in Wimbledon, performing world-class chamber music and jazz. They run educational projects for local children, sponsor young up-and-coming jazz and classical ensembles, and heavily subsidise all their concert ticket prices, to help ensure music is accessible to all in Merton.[2]

WHS and the Jigsaw Players

This accessibility is increasing further with this new partnership with WHS. The Jigsaw Players will host four different events throughout the academic year 2018-19 focusing on composition skills and female composers via workshops and concerts. These are completely free to attend and are open to all.

The workshops will allow pupils from year 9-13 from WHS and local schools to understand more about how to write for chamber forces – specifically string quartet – enabling a higher quality of composition work required for GCSE and A Level Music courses. With numbers of pupils studying the subject across the country in sharp decline[3], schools are either struggling to offer Music as an academic subject or have small numbers doing so outside of the timetable. As the numbers are small, funding can be hard to secure as the impact lacks large-scale focus. Against this backdrop, these partnerships are of even more importance as they offer a chance for all schools – state and independent – to engage with curriculum enrichment at zero cost.

Composition is frequently the area of compulsory study at GCSE and A Level which is the most complex to teach and learn and is the area where examiner marks are frequently debated owing to the more ‘subjective’ nature of composition. This will not change as long as composition is a compulsory part of GCSE and A Level Music, but what we can do as a school is to create a time and space for teachers, pupils and professional musicians to come together to discuss the challenges and work together on finding potential solutions. This collaboration gives confidence and allows for networking – something vital for a subject like Music which are often staffed by only one teacher for the entire school.

Free tickets to the workshops can be booked below:

Workshop 1 3rd October 4:15-6:15pm M11

Workshop 2 14th February 4:15-6:15pm M11

The concerts are also open to all, focusing on the chamber music of female composers. This clearly links the chance to hear professional musicians with the overall ethos of girls’-first education, championing music which often struggles to find a voice in the canon of Western Classical Music. This type of cultural enrichment is universal and has significant benefits to overall academic progress[4].

Free tickets to the concert can be booked below:

Concert 1 3rd December 7pm Senior Hall

Concert 2 7th May 7pm Senior Hall


The most effective partnerships are ones characterised by a shared vision and passion between the schools and agencies agreeing to work together. Without this shared goal, partnerships become forced and subsequently lack effectiveness, reducing impact. Honesty, openness and clear communication are central to ensuring success for all stakeholders.

The new partnership with the Jigsaw Players is an exciting opportunity to work with local professional musicians and other GCSE and A Level pupils and staff, allowing new networking opportunities on a staff and pupil level and encouraging all-important discussions about Music as an academic subject. Whether you would like to attend as an active participant in the workshops or simply as a member of the audience listening to the music by composers past and present, you are warmly invited to become part of our shared passion for all things musical.

[1] See OWLS Quarterly here





Classical Music – relevant to the youth of today? – 14/09/18

Louisa (Y13 Music Rep) investigates whether Classical Music is still relevant to young people of today and what can be gained from listening to it.

Classical music, once at the forefront of popular culture and entertainment, is nowadays often seen as a dying art. Frequently, classical music, an umbrella term for music spanning the baroque, classical and romantic eras, is described as an ‘elitist form of artistic expression’ that is only enjoyed by the old, the white and the rich. Its place as leading form of musical entertainment has been taken by modern genres such as pop, rock and rap that generally do not share the musical complexity of much of classical and romantic music that used to dominate concert halls.

It is clear that the interest and enjoyment of classical music has decreased over the years, most prominently in today’s youth, despite the increasing accessibility through platforms such as Spotify and YouTube. However, just because interest has lowered does not mean that “classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth” as radio 1 DJ ‘Kissy Sell Out’ publicly argued[1]. It is important that those with a platform in the music industry challenge the notion that classical music is only for a select group of elites as there is so much to be gained from being engaged with classical music, from education to in media to understanding successful music in the modern world.

An area in which classical music is of utmost importance is in education. Headlines such as “listening to an hour of Mozart a day can make your baby smarter” outlining the so called ‘Mozart effect’ frequently dominate the press. This longstanding myth of listening to Mozart as an infant correlating to intelligence has since been debunked as having little scientific merit.

Above: DJs including William Orbit and DJ Tiesto have famously remixed classical music, including Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Does this make the original more relevant?

However, there is evidence behind the notion that classical music has a positive effect on brain development and wellbeing. A study undertaken in 2014 by Zuk, Benjamin, and Kenyon found that adults and children with musical training exhibited cognitive advantages over their non-musically-trained counterparts. Adults with prior musical training performed better on tests of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency; and the musically-trained children performed better in verbal fluency and processing speed. The musically-trained children also exhibited enhanced brain activation in the areas associated with ‘executive functioning’ compared to children who had no previous musical training.

An additional study at the National Association for Music Education as well as researchers from the University of Kansas, found that young participants in music programmes in American High Schools associated with higher GPA, SAT and ACT scores, IQ, and other standardized test scores, as well as fewer disciplinary problems, better attendance, and higher graduation rates

[1] 23/03/18

These scores can have great impacts on future quality of life as they directly contribute to which collage one is able to attend as well as future jobs leading to income.

Another important use of classical music is in modern day media. Film music is a genre that directly stems from classical music. Its widespread use in movies and television means classical music is constantly permeating our daily lives and it would be naïve to pretend it is irrelevant.

Film music serves several purposes in films including enhancing the emotional impact of scenes and inducing emotional reactions in viewers.  The effects are widespread and particularly evident when watching a scene without the accompanying music. For example, watching the famous shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho without Herrmann’s music makes the scene appear almost comical and certainly lacks the fear and suspense the scene is meant to evoke.

The film music industry is very successful especially among younger generations, with film music scoring the highest number of downloads of instrumental music. Similarly, the videogame music industry has recently taken off in terms of popularity and recognition within the music community. Videogame music has striking similarities to both film music and elements of classical music with the main difference being it must be able to repeat indefinitely to accompany gameplay. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recently announced that it was to play a PlayStation concert to celebrate videogame music. James Williams, director of the RPO describes the planned concert as “signpost for where orchestral music is expanding”.

Whilst the music itself is not classical, it uses many elements of classical composition and is significantly influenced by it. It is arguably the most similar genre to music of the classical era in the modern day. This shows how it is not always obvious where derivatives of classical music can appear in the media of young people, yet the stigma is still very present. James Williams argues that if classical music rebranded to ‘orchestral music’ to include film and videogame popular music, it would help to destigmatise the term. Classical music is vital as the basis of these new and expanding genres of music that are very popular among younger generations.

Within society, there are many other instances in which classical music is used and very relevant, although not in its original context. In advertising, classical music and derivatives of classical music are widely used in order to promote specific product and target specific groups of people. A 2014 study from North Carolina State University shows how the correct musical soundtrack in an advert can “increase attention, making an ad more likely to be noticed, viewed, and understood; enhance enjoyment and emotional response; aid memorability and recall; induce positive mood; forge positive associations between brands and the music through classic conditioning; enhance key messages; influence intention and likelihood to buy”.

The brain has evolved to encode emotional memories more deeply that non-emotional ones and memories formed with a relevant, resonant musical component are stored as emotional memories. This means that adverts with suitable music are more likely to be remembered and acted upon. Clearly, regardless of whether or not classical music is actively listened to by young people, it plays a very active part in our society and therefore cannot be labelled as being irrelevant.

Above: Film music for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone being performed in real time alongside the movie.

Despite classical music being stereotypically more popular within older social circles, it is still very relevant for today’s youth, whether in or out of its traditional context. Claims that the popularity of classical music is decreasing can be disproved if the definition of classical music is expanded to include similar genres such as in film, videogames and advertisement which are all very popular and relevant, in addition to the huge benefits classical music has on the cognitive development of young people. Therefore, it cannot be argued that classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth.

Further Reading:

This is your brain on music – Daniel Levitin, Dutton Penguin, 2006

Have a listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and the remixes by Orbit and Tiesto, below: