If music be the food of love … Chiswick Schools’s steel band is the jerk seasoning

Image above: Band leader and teacher Samuel Dubois performing with Chiswick School students

Taking every opportunity to get out of school and play at community events

I realise that jerk seasoning is Jamaican and steel pan is Trinidadian, but you think of a better headline that mixes street food and steel pan music.

Chiswick School’s Steel band will be playing at the FoodSt market on Sunday 24 March in Old Market Place on Chiswick High Rd. The cheerful sound of the tinny pans will brighten up the bleakest of days, so it’s a good move on their part, especially as Chiswick Schools’s steel band knows what they’re about.

They are lucky to have Samuel Dubois as their leader. As well as teaching at the school, Samuel is a successful musician in his own right, who has performed and taught around the world (in 70 countries) performing with artists such as Rihanna, Craig Davis and Courtney Pine. He has won a MOBO award and has just released his own album, Bassman.

“I did a couple of shows with Rihanna when she came to London for the Brit awards” he says, when pressed. “I’ve played with Craig David a few times, some live shows for BBC 1 Extra. Courtney Pine was ten years ago, on Jules Holland’s show.”

Images above: Chiswick Schools’ steel pan

He comes from a talented family. One sister is the DJ Tafrina DuBois, another sister Caroline a champion boxer (Youth Olympic champion, World Youth champion and four-times European Youth champion) and his brother Danny a World Champion heavyweight boxer (WBA heavyweight champion 2022-23).

When not teaching, Samuel is touring. Head of the music department Zac Moxon reminds him of the time he turned up slightly late for a lesson one day and a bit out of breath.

“Oh yes”, says Samuel, “I was late to period one. I’d been in Croatia recording over a weekend and the tour company cancelled our flight, so I hitch-hiked back.”

Images above: The band in Croatia; Samuel’s Bassman album, dedicated to ‘The Bassman’ Ashley Bullard

His new album is the product of work recorded during lockdown, when he went to Senegal for three months and played with Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal and percussionist Bakane Seck.

Steel pan is great for a school band because you can take part to some degree no matter how inexperienced or ignorant of music you are, but to have someone like that as your teacher is inspiring.

Samuel is also someone with whom students can identify because he is local, having gone to school at Ark Burlington Danes school in White City. He joined the Ebony steel band; one of Europe’s leading steel bands and one of the first to set up in the UK, which has recently celebrated its 50 year anniversary.

Ebony has won the National Panorama competition at Notting Hill Carnival for a record 22 times and encourages people of all ages to play.

Image above: Chiswick School Chamber orchestra

It is this sort of confidence Samuel and Zac want to give students at Chiswick School by giving them as many opportunities to play in public in as many different settings as possible. Since Zac took over as Head of Music he has established four choirs – Years seven and eight Girls and Boys, Chiswick Voices (selective) and the Performing Arts Choir (inclusive), eight bands (there are eight ‘functioning’ bands and two ‘dormant’) and an orchestra. There are also now two steel bands – a junior and a senior.

READ ALSO: Chiswick School Choral Group sing at King’s College, Cambridge

Image above: Chiswick Voices at Kings College, Cambridge

From King’s College to the City Barge

Under his leadership the students at Chiswick School have had the opportunity to perform in some spectacular venues. In November Chiswick Voices, the senior choir of Chiswick School, sang at a joint service of Choral Evensong with King’s Voices, the mixed choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and last March they sang the whole of Vivaldi’s Gloria with Hounslow Youth Choir, even though the choir had only been formed in January 2022.

The bands play in local pubs. One of the bands formed in January 2022, ‘The Q’ play regularly at the Queen’s Head pub in Chiswick and the other bands play at the City Barge. Students have also performed at Watermans in Brentford.

Zac won the Outstanding New Teacher of the Year award at the 2023 Pearson National Teaching Awards in November, which recognised his ‘inspirational teaching style, remarkable contributions to both the school and the community, and his significant influence among peers and students’.

READ ALSO: Chiswick School teacher wins gold at prestigious National Teaching Awards

READ ALSO: Education Secretary visits Chiswick School, as Head of Music wins prestigious award

Image above: Zac Moxon (second from the right) at the award ceremony with Georgia Knight, Head of Dance (L) Tommy Robinson, Head of Performing Arts at Chiswick School, and Head teacher Laura Ellener (R)

“We had military parades every lunchtime”

Zac’s musical education could not be more different from Samuel’s. Where Samuel had no formal training, Zac studied Music at Cambridge University, and won a bursary to Christ’s Hospital School, a boarding school for ‘talented individuals who experience financial need’

He described the experience as “life-changing”:

“The school had a 100 strong marching band, we had military parades every lunchtime and often played at Twickenham and Lord’s Cricket ground. We played symphonies in Orchestra and sang big works like Faure’s Requiem in choir.”

Alumni are encouraged never to forget the great benefits they have received and to enable others to have the same advantage, a credo which he applies to teaching his students. Zac could have toured as a bassoonist with orchestras, but chose a life of stability and routine so there was some chance he might see his wife now and then.

“The pandemic showed me how uncertain a career as a professional musician could be.”

Touring orchestras’ loss is Chiswick’s gain. Having done a crash course in teaching with Teach First and started as a maths teacher at Chiswick, he was very quickly asked to take over the role of Head of Music when the position became available. The A level course was almost scrapped, but it is now flourishing. One student has received an offer for a choral scholarship to Oxford. Another has a place at Trinity College London.

By encouraging their students to perform in the community, the students gain confidence as perfomers and we get the benefit of live music at a raft of community events.

Image above: The Q ’70s & ’80s music night

Chiswick School gigs

Coming up soon:

The Q live at the Queen’s Head, Thursday 22 February at 7 pm
Dark Riders live at the City Barge, Wednesday 28 February at 6.30pm
Faure Requiem with Chiswick Voices and Chiswick Community Choir at St Mary’s Osterley, Saturday 16 March at 6pm
Chiswick School steel band at FoodSt street food market at Old Market Place, Sunday 24 March at 2pm
Jazz and Blues Night at Chiswick School, in the school hall, Tuesday 26 March at 6.30

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar