Large-scale performances take place in the fully-equipped Blake Theatre and, occasionally, St. Mary’s Priory Church. The Theatre seats 550, houses a Steinway Model D concert grand piano, and is used extensively by outside organizations for professional performances, including those of the Merlin Music Society www.merlinmusic.org. Services, and very occasionally performances, take place in the School Chapel, a space which houses a number of works of art and is much valued by the School.
The department maintains a large, comprehensive, and well-maintained stock of orchestral and band instruments, which are leased to pupils at low rates for use in School ensembles, though musicians are encouraged to acquire their own instruments when possible.
The Music Department operates a smaller, satellite division in The Grange, which also houses well-equipped practice rooms and a classroom, as well as a small hall.
Between the boarding houses, the Grange and the main school, Monmouth School is home to twenty-one pianos and two digital pianos. Unlike violins, pianos don’t tend to get better with age, as in the school environment they are used intensively for eight months of the year, something most domestic pianos would not be able to withstand.
Since the Music School was opened in 1989, the Auditorium has housed two grand pianos. The 1902 Steinway concert grand had been in the School for many years and the Yamaha half-concert was bought for the Music School at the time of opening. It had become especially evident in the last few years that both of these pianos were in need of some serious work.
So; repair or replace? The Steinway would cost around £20,000 to bring into first-class order, but would always be a fragile instrument due to its age. The Yamaha would cost much less (£5,000 maybe) to bring up to scratch, but this is where personal opinion comes into play. I myself have never liked Yamahas; I feel they are brash but have no warmth and tend to deteriorate rapidly. There is also the issue of space, as the two pianos took up so much room. After discussion, it was decided to look for a new instrument and offer the two existing ones in part exchange.
Eventually, we settled for a Sauter seven-foot grand. Sauter are not much known in this country, but they are one of a number of small companies in southern Germany still making pianos by hand. What this offered us was the ability to have a piano with the finesse of tone and action associated with more famous names, but at a rather smaller cost, especially as we were offering our two existing instruments in part exchange. In late January Mrs. Milledge and I made the journey to Bath to see an instrument recently imported. As it was already twenty years old, it had been completely overhauled and restrung, and we both felt it would make an ideal instrument for our pianists to use for practice and performance.
It arrived in Monmouth in mid February and is now happily installed in the Auditorium, settling down after its recent journeys and maintenance work. As we are lucky enough to house a 1971 Steinway concert grand in the Theatre (which actually belongs to the Merlin Music Society), the School now houses two concert grand pianos of the first quality.