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Music at Aiglon: A “treasure box”

Music at Aiglon: A “treasure box”
Music at Aiglon: A “treasure box”

When Tom Dobney, Head of Creative Arts, and Jane Trainer, Head of Music at Aiglon College, visited the campus four years ago, the first thing they noted was the promise it offered. “We had a feeling that anything was possible here,” Ms Trainer remembers. “It was the combination of the staff and students from all kinds of backgrounds and the extraordinary setting that pushes you to have bigger aspirations.”

The musical couple saw Aiglon as the perfect place to bring to life their educational philosophy, honed over 18 years of both teaching — in the UK’s state and private school systems — and as professional musicians. Ms Trainer, a former concert pianist, learned her craft under legends like John Binhgam, former pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus. Mr Dobney, a scholarship-receiving chorister as a child, has won accolades for his compositions, a skill he now puts to use with students at Aiglon.

This philosophy is that the gift of music should be available to everyone. “Music is something that should be open to all,” explains Mr Dobney. The foundations for this were already there when Mr Dobney and Ms Trainer joined Aiglon in 2019. Long-standing traditions, like the annual school-wide singing competition, House Shout, have always brought Aiglonians together around music. But Mr Dobney and the staff in the music department have been building on this. 

“It’s really important to have parts of our music offering that capture everyone, like our instrumental programme in the Junior School, where every student learns an orchestral instrument,” says Mr Dobney. Just last month, 50-something Year 7 and Year 8 students came together to play as an orchestra. 

If inclusion is such a core part of the musical programme at Aiglon, it’s because of the recognition of the important role it plays in fostering lifelong, transferable skills. For example, this past year, an expert in the Alexander Technique worked with students from Year 7 through to Year 13 on methods for improving their posture, movement and coordination. While this type of instruction might be typical in a conservatoire, it’s not usually available at non-music schools. But its benefits extend far beyond helping students improve their musical technique. “It helps with public speaking and this sense of reducing tension in your body which can be helpful under pressure.” explains Ms Trainer. 

Many other elements of Aiglon’s music programme draw inspiration from the faculty’s educational and professional backgrounds, including Ms Trainer’s as a pianist. “Studying at a conservatoire, and giving recitals demands high standards and focused work, you are  expected to be at the top of your game,” she says. “We bring that spirit to what we do. We’re not a music school, but we can provide the same types of offerings for the children here, so they have the highest personal standards for themselves, to bring out the best possible in them.” Those offerings include opportunities like taking part in the Villars Music Academy, founded by Aline Champion, where students were invited to participate in a masterclasses with some of the world’s most renowned musicians.

It’s thanks to this approach that the music department at Aiglon has become a space that is both highly inclusive and a hotbed of exceptionalism. For example, of the 100 or so students learning to play the piano, around 10% of them are working towards a Royal Schools of Music diploma. “That’s what you might normally do in the first year of a conservatoire,” explains Ms Trainer. The progress has not gone unnoticed, even by those outside of Aiglon. Earlier this year, two opera singers, Susanne Elmark and Charles Workman, visited the school to put on a performance for students. They were blown away by what they saw. “Susanne described the music department as a treasure box,” Ms Trainer remembers.

What has made these sorts of accolades possible, Mr Dobney makes clear, is that the broader Aiglon community — school leadership, parents, alumni — have bought into their vision for what a musical education should look like. “None of what we’ve been able to offer students would be possible without the unimaginable support we’ve received,” he points out. 

For example, when Mr Dobney and Ms Trainer suggested to the leadership team that, given the number of students learning to play the piano, Aiglon might consider becoming an all-Steinway school, the ball got rolling almost immediately. “We visited Hamburg, where the Steinway — the best piano in the world — continues to be made by hand and went on a factory tour with a group of Aiglon parents,” says Ms Trainer. “Of the seven pianos we need, we’ve already had four donated by parents and alumni,” Mr Dobney adds. “It just shows the incredible support we get from the Aiglon community.”

The ambitions for Aiglon’s music department don’t stop there, and there are many more things in the works. For example, the Moghadam Campus Hub, due to open in a little over a year, will be transformative, Mr Dobney thinks. “We were lucky enough to have a tour of it the other day, and I think in terms of making music, it will be one of the best performance spaces in the world,” he says. “You’ll be on that stage with a Steinway Model D, with views of the mountains behind you. I can’t imagine how you could top that.”



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