Simon is one of the College’s longest-serving Visiting Music Teachers (VMTs). Ahead of his retirement at the end of this academic year, I spoke to Simon about the changes he’s seen at the College since he joined in 1997.
The College was a very different place when I arrived. I was teaching at Ludgrove School, and a music scholar I taught started at Radley the previous year. I subsequently found out from his mum that he didn’t have a saxophone teacher. So I came up and met with the then-Precentor, John Madden, and before I knew it I was teaching here two days a week. Not long after I was asked to be Head of Wind, and shortly after that I took over as Head of Brass as a short-term stop-gap that I’ve been doing ever since!
Woodwind is my specialism and I run the Big Band and Concert Band. I now teach here four days a week and gradually over the time have cut down my teaching elsewhere. At the moment, my only non-Radley work is for the Royal Academy of Music where I deliver the Woodwind part of the LRAM teaching course.
What is a typical day like for a VMT?
A lot of us are involved in the ensembles run by the music department and that’s great as it breaks up the lessons we teach which are quite intense as they are all one-to-one.
VMTs have a unique relationship with the boys as we are often the only people they see one-to-one and we have that consistency of teaching them for 40 minutes a week across a number of years. It’s an important relationship that we build – occasionally the music is of secondary importance and a boy will want to chat or get something off his chest. We notice very quickly if a boy isn’t his usual self.
What makes Radley a special place to work?
The College is very good at looking after its staff and is very understanding and supportive – whether you work here one day a week or seven. And of course, the environment is beautiful.
Unlike a lot of other places, there was never any question of music stopping at Radley during the Covid lockdowns and I think we have come out of that period stronger – both as a music department and musically as a school.
One thing I really enjoy is preparing my students for performances as part of our partnerships work, for example the concerts we give in local Care Homes on Wednesday afternoons – I really believe the work we do with music in our community is one of the most valuable things boys can experience while they’re at Radley.
And away from Radley, where might we find you?
I’ve always run a playing career in musical theatre in parallel with my work as a music teacher. I was a regular deputy in The Phantom of the Opera and more recently I was a member of the orchestra in a revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies at the National Theatre playing clarinet, oboe, cor anglais and tenor sax. It was intense as I would teach a full day here and then do the show in the evening but I loved it and I think it’s important that the boys see you have a performing career as well as teaching.
Can you pick out some highlights from your years at Radley?
The 175 Anniversary Celebration Concert at Cadogan Hall last year is a great memory – three of my pupils performed a movement each of Escapades with the orchestra which was a very proud moment, and of course performing with the BBC Big Band on the Sunday evening of the Festival 175 week. There have also been some fabulous tours over the years, which have given me the opportunity to play and conduct in spectacular locations like St Mark’s, Venice and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
It’s rewarding to see boys pursuing musical careers after Radley – we’ve just heard that two boys have been offered organ scholarships at Cambridge and another is currently organ scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford. Several ORs whom I taught are currently doing really well in the music industry, like Hugh Brunt and John Warner who have gone on to have successful conducting careers and Freddie Tapner who founded the London Musical Theatre Orchestra.
Tell us what retirement has in store for you?
I will keep my work at the RAM going and I’ll continue to freelance. I’m learning the parts for the Stephen Sondheim retrospective Old Friends, in order to deputise. The show is 40 of Sondheim’s songs from different shows in a four-month run at the Gielgud Theatre.
What has changed in your time at Radley?
Music really has become central to the life of the College. Singing has always been strong, but music is so embedded in College life, particularly as concerts take place all over the campus now. More boys have individual music lessons than ever before and it’s exciting to know that the modernisation and expansion of the music school is just around the corner.
I think in a funny way it’s the right time for me to go as the person who takes over from me will have a blank canvas. The standard of music at Radley has gone from strength to strength and I feel like I’m leaving things in good shape for my successor.