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Grey Matter Chatter

October 2021

Re-imagining music

An opportunity to reboot and re-imagine is perhaps the upside to an ongoing pandemic. In this edition of Grey Matter Chatter, David Orr, recently appointed to co-lead Hilton College’s Music Department, outlines a rationale for Music Education for All, together with some specifics regarding the new Hilton College Music Centre.

From Entertainment to STEAM

Are the arts coming in from the cold? It may have taken a while, but the arts are gaining increasing recognition as a differentiator in education. Aside from their central role in documenting and narrating the human story, they are an important stimulus in cognitive development and in our capacity as humans to be creative, to innovate and to use our imagination. They can encourage us in collaboration, in teamwork and in self-expression, as well as our ability to adapt to change and to persevere in problems to be solved or tasks to be accomplished.These 21st century skills are seen as the key to economic survival. With recognition of the importance of the so-called ‘soft skills’ in the workplace, so the traditional thinking which places Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at the core of the educational enterprise is shifting to include the arts. STEM becomes STEAM.

A new state-of-the-art Music Centre

It is quite remarkable that the campus building project now under way at Hilton College should be a new state-of-the-art Music Centre. This at a time in which the performing arts have been severely impacted by the pandemic, a time of major economic challenges, a time in which our society is wrestling with the relevance of long-held norms and rethinking big questions to do with identity and ethics.
The social, economic, and political backdrop against which Hilton College will turn 150 is truly vast. And daunting.This is the culmination of 14 years of planning and preparation. I am delighted to join Brett Udal as we move into the final stages of this project.

Let me try to outline something of what we hope to do in the new facilities.

Music for All

New musical facilities make it possible to re-imagine a musical curriculum that provides a musical experience for all Hilton College boys, positioning the school as a musical leader in South African education. Whilst encouraging individual achievement, a Music Department’s responsibility is also to create a formative musical experience that challenges and extends all pupils in the school through a combination of practical engagement and passive exposure to music.


This experience for all begins with singing: in the chapel and on the rugby stands, an activity that plays a vital unifying role in the community as one of only a few team activities that is not age-specific. A new digital organ is being installed in the chapel in 2022 to support congregational singing, and the existing 1937 pipe organ is finding a home in the new Music Department in a concert space.

Polyrhythms in Grade 8 and Grade 9

Alongside singing, our Grade 8 and Grade 9 musical curriculum, which is the foundation to a broader, formative Hilton College experience, is being re-imagined with a strong practical focus on collaborative music-making in contrasting ensemble modules. These modules include marimbas, drumming, and gumboot and traditional Zulu dancing. The ensemble activities will develop musical skills and at the same time nurture 21st century skills.Alongside this, a two-year elective subject Explore Music will allow those more serious about learning a musical instrument to gain academic credit for the time invested in learning an instrument, while boys who may not previously have been able to learn an instrument have the opportunity to start one in small group lessons as part of this elective subject in Grade 8.Music Technology and Composition form part of the second year of the two-year music elective in Grade 9. Grade 9 Arts & Culture: Music offers a further
opportunity for boys to start trumpet, clarinet or guitar lessons or to join a Grade 9 marimba band following their introduction to marimbas in Grade 8. The idea is that this Grade 8 and Grade 9 programme will create greater diversity in our music-making whilst acting as an entry point both to academic music in the senior phase and to the school’s co-curricular ensemble programme.

Creative Arts: the heartbeat of community

Aside from giving the ‘Old Hobby Block’ a complete makeover, the new Hilton College Music Centre will include an entirely new building that includes three classrooms, a recording studio that will be linked to multiple venues, a chamber concert hall that doubles as a choir rehearsal venue, a band room, and an exhibition-cum-hospitality space in what was the ‘Old Museum’. One broad intention is to merge the showcasing of the arts; another is to interface with sport (the new marimba room will open out directly towards the Gilfillan field); and a third is to create hospitality around musical performance.In addition, a boys’ common room is being created to merge their musical practice with other prep tasks, making the new Music Department the go-to for our boys at all times of the week. We anticipate that the music of this new space will become the heartbeat and

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