The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

World famous composer visits St Benedict’s School!

Popular and prolific composer and choral conductor, John Rutter CBE, is in demand across the world – and has paid a visit to a Leeds primary school to listen to the children’s progress on a most unusual musical instrument!

Whole classes of pupils at St Benedict’s Catholic Primary School in Garforth have been learning the melodica. The school is in the Bishop Konstant Catholic Academy Trust (BKCAT) which since 2021 has enrolled all 15 of its schools in the Diocese of Leeds’s Keyboard Studies Programme, which provides high-quality tuition in a family of related keyboard instruments, including accordion, piano, organ – and melodica – to school pupils, choristers and adult learners across Yorkshire.

At about 40cm long, a melodica’s keyboard is accessible to even the tiniest fingers. Sound is produced by depressing the keys whilst blowing down a flexible tube. These small, portable and inexpensive instruments teach the children both breath control and keyboard skills, giving them a foundation to move on to either wind instruments or piano.

John Rutter was visiting Leeds for the National Schools Singing Programme’s annual conference at Hinsley Hall. He is a Trustee of the Vinehill Trust, which is one of the generous funders not only of the Diocese of Leeds Schools Singing and Keyboard Studies Programmes, but (along with the Benefact Trust) has now given almost £5million of seed funding for the National Schools Singing Programme (NSSP) which has now been rolled out to state schools in the the majority of Catholic dioceses in the UK, as well as to Stonyhurst School and some Anglican Cathedrals including Sheffield, Newcastle, Derby, Liverpool, Leicester and York Minster,

John was welcomed to St Benedict’s School by Head Teacher, John Woolley, and his staff, and by BKAT Chair Helen Utting and Director of Primary Standards, Rob Barraclough. In a teaching session led by Diocese of Leeds Music’s distinguished accordion player, Valerie Barr, the melodica class impressed the composer with a rendition of his ‘Gaelic Blessing’. He answered the children’s questions, including revealing that on one of his own school reports, a teacher had written ‘John sings well – when he sings quietly’ and that his favourite composition was always ‘the next one!’

Accompanying John Rutter on his visit to St Benedict’s was Keyboard Studies Programme Director, David Pipe. As Leeds Cathedral Organist and Artistic Director of the Leeds International Organ Festival, he shares John Rutter’s advocacy of high-quality music education for all young people, regardless of their background.

David Pipe said, ‘Like our Schools Singing Programme our Keyboard Studies Programme aims for children in our diverse communities to aspire to more. We open doors to opportunities in further education, choral direction and accompaniment. We start small, but the melodica can give young people the foundations to become skilful, multi-talented individuals within the music profession. Meeting such a world-renowned musician as John Rutter has inspired the children – and St Benedict’s School might well produce some professional accompanists of the future!’

Schools find the benefits of singing and playing an instrument are more than just musical; the children’s behaviour, concentration, academic studies and team-work are also positively affected. Rob Barraclough is Director of Primary Standards at the BKCAT and introduced the Diocese’s Keyboard Studies Programme as part of the Trust’s wider curriculum offer in 2021, investing in 750 melodicas, plus expert tuition from the Diocese’s professional music staff across all 15 schools.

Rob, who is a church organist himself, said, ‘All our schools were already part of the Schools Singing Programme. The vision I had was to weave the two programmes together over the duration of Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6) so that pupils in lower Key Stage 2 would have singing tuition and then progress seamlessly on to the Keyboard Programme in upper Key Stage 2. The Directors and CEO of the Trust, Lesley Fitton, place opportunity and aspiration at the heart of our strategic plan – and ensuring that every pupil across Key Stage 2 has a high-quality, weekly music lesson is central to our offer. These ambitious programmes, led by some of the most talented musicians in the country, have had a transformational impact on the lives of our students – and we are delighted that a world-renowned musician such as John Rutter has been able to experience the results for himself!’

St Benedict’s melodica pupils: the ‘Stars of the Show’!


L-R: David Pipe, Helen Utting (BKCAT Chair), Valerie Barr, John Rutter, John Woolley (Head Teacher), Rob Barraclough (BKCAT)


Professional accordion player Valerie Barr teaches whole-class melodica sessions in Catholic state schools across the Diocese of Leeds [Photo credit: Francis Drafz]

A good impression all round! John Rutter complimented Head Teacher John Woolley and his staff on the children’s high standards of behaviour and intelligent questions – as well as their knowledge of music theory and their melodica playing! [Photo credit: Francis Drafz]