House at Home: Roberts House celebrate

Each boarding house at Downside hosts a ‘House at Home’ event during the course of the academic year. It is an opportunity for the pupils to welcome their friends and family to school, and enjoy a few hours together as a group, with food and entertainment planned by the pupils. 

Last weekend, it was the turn of Roberts House to host their annual event. The boys had worked hard to prepare an entertaining day, which included speeches from the Heads of House, musical entertainment…there was even a quiz! 

Mr Ottewell, House Master of Roberts House, delivered a speech to parents and friends:

As some of you may know I speak a little bit of Turkish. There is a fantastic phrase, ‘ayağınıza sağlık’ which means ‘health to your feet’ – essentially ‘thank you for coming!’ Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen to our Roberts House at Home.

I’d like to set up today with a little story: picture the scene: A man is stood in a metro station in Washington DC and starts to play his violin. For the next 45 minutes he performs six pieces of Bach. During this time it also happens to be rush hour – it is calculated that 1,100 people pass through the station – most of them on their way to work.

After a few minutes of violin playing, a women throws a few coins into a cloth cap on the floor, without breaking stride, she hurries past.

A couple of minutes later someone leans against a wall and listens to the violin but then looks at his watch, suddenly, dashes off – clearly late for work.

The person that pays the violinist the most attention is a three year old boy. The child stands mesmerized by the music……before his mother drags him away kicking and screaming. During the violinist’s performance, six people stop to listen, and twenty give him money but continue walking at their usual pace to wherever they are going.

The violinist collects the sixteen dollars earned in those 45 minutes. Silence takes over. Nobody notices. No applause. No recognition.

No one seems to notice that the violinist is Joshua Bell – one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written. His violin, a Stradivarius, is valued in excess of 3.5 million dollars. Two days before this performance in the metro, Joshua Bell sold out at a major theatre in Boston; tickets sold for 100 dollars in the ‘cheap’ seats.

In a commonplace environment, in an inconvenient hour – Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context? If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the greatest musicians in the world, performing some of the best music ever written, then how many other wonderful things are we missing? 

To my mind one of the greatest assets of a Benedictine education is that it focuses on the many gifts in life, if people are prepared to receive them and also perceive them. Through the Holy Spirit, the world is made full of beauty. We are all stewards of these gifts.  

When I was at boarding school, many moons ago, as a thirteen year old, I remember watching a boy kick a rugby ball so hard at a colossal oil-painting as he raced up a flight of stairs to a dormitory –the painting ripped – Later, I discovered that the picture was a priceless Rubens – thankfully the painting has been painstakingly restored now. As we get older we tend to value the things around us so much more, most importantly though it’s the people that count most. Ironically, the boy who ripped the Rubens is now a successful art dealer in New York; he is haunted to this day with flashbacks of this reckless act. I call him the Rubens Ripper.

Pope Francis recently said, “A school’s mission is to develop the sense of the true, the sense of the good, the sense of the beautiful”

Today is an opportunity to do just that together. Roberts was recently awarded the most musical house and for good reason! Perhaps we are listening to the next great musician, who knows, as we strive to entertain you – but we are much more besides – as Theo and Ollie will share with you all. It remains a great honour for me to be House Master of such a special house – which has such strength in depth – in what I believe is the best and most beautiful of Catholic schools. Now I leave you in the capable hands of our Head of Roberts, Theo Whyte and Deputy Head of House, Ollie Church.