Gus Unger-Hamilton – member of the global indie rock band, alt-J – took a trip down memory lane when he returned to King’s Ely; the school where his musical talent was first recognised and nurtured.
Gus was a student at King’s Ely from 1998 to 2005. He joined the school as an Ely Cathedral Boy Chorister. Gus attended the University of Leeds to study English, and it was here in 2007 where he and his bandmates formed alt-J.
Director of Music at King’s Ely, Neil Porter-Thaw, persuaded Gus to squeeze in judging this year’s House Music Competition before he and his bandmates headed off on their tour of The United States. The atmosphere in the school’s Hayward Theatre was electric, as students from Years 9 to 13 took to the stage to perform to Gus, their peers, and their teachers.
Gus described the performances on the evening as “incredible”. He said: “It was a huge privilege to come and judge the House Music Competition. The talent on display was incredible. I loved the event as a student at King’s Ely, and it has gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of Mr Porter-Thaw. What a great night!”
Like so many students who join King’s Ely and Ely Cathedral as choristers, Gus says that the experiences had a profound impact on his life and career. He said: “There is no doubt that being a chorister was the foundational event in my musical life. It taught me just about everything that I use to this day as a professional musician.”
The House Music Competition is an annual highlight of the King’s Ely events calendar. Old Eleans of all generations will vouch for the fact that it is about so much more than performing or winning. The event is about friendship, camaraderie, community, and that spirit for which King’s Ely is renowned.
After much deliberation, Gus announced Osmond House (boys) as the winners of the ensemble performances, and Hill House (girls) were crowned the winners of the unison and overall performances.
Jonathan Shaw, Head of King’s Ely Senior, said: “Without doubt, one of the highlights of the school year for many pupils is the House Music Competition. It is an evening where all pupils are involved in performing; it is a fantastic celebration of music, dance, and house spirit. We were privileged to have Gus as our adjudicator. He had the near impossible job of choosing the winners. Congratulations to the houses that triumphed, but the overarching take away is that every house entertained magnificently. Mr Porter-Thaw summed up the evening as one of ‘musical joy’. Congratulations to everyone involved and thank you to all the organisers, both staff and pupils. There is a tremendous amount of work involved in the planning of this event and the preparation of the performances.”
King’s Ely is renowned for its holistic approach to education, and this is reflected in the school’s outstanding Visual and Performing Arts provision. Music, Drama and Theatre, Fine Art, Fashion and Textiles, Photography, and Dance are each embedded in the culture of King’s Ely, with vast opportunities for pupils of all abilities and aspirations.
Music is one of the reasons King’s Ely came into existence in the first place, back in 970 AD. Today, over a third of students learn a musical instrument or receive vocal tuition. From the Boy and Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral Choir to jazz and rock bands, orchestras and its famous all boys a cappella group, the King’s Barbers, the quality, range, and variety of ensembles all attest to the school’s musical pedigree.
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