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Mander Organs

So What Is Happening In The Schools?


Peter Clark

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Some of us are trying to keep things going.

My School (small town 11-18 comprehenseive) Choirs' choral repertoire this Christmas:

  • Hallelujah ChoRUS - GFH
  • All my heart this night rejoices - ? (ooops, left my C4CII on my piano at school!!)
  • The Lamb - John Tavener
  • Scots Nativity - Bullard (if you don't know it, sing it next year - it's wonderful)
  • Nunc Dimmitis - Paul Morley (recycled RVW/HH, but it works, so I'm told)
  • Mary's Boy Child - mowtown-style arrangement by myself - Gospel style vocal harmonies, accompanied by rhythm section + horns

.

 

Usual trad. congregational carols + one excellent wosrhip-song style item; 'Immanuel' - Michael Card.

 

I have a couple of theories about dumbing down in oriamry scghools, but that will have to wait for another day.

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Some of us are trying to keep things going.

My School (small town 11-18 comprehenseive) Choirs' choral repertoire this Christmas:

 

I have no idea what my school are doing for our carol service next Saturday - despite it being held at the church where I'm DoM, I'm not involved except as a member of the congregation. Slightly upset? Moi?

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December's issue of Music Teacher has an interesting short article by Martin Ashley summarising his research into boys's attitudes to singing. He found that singing actually often is perceived as cool, but it is the singing of Pop Idol, X Factor, boy bands and the like. What is not cool is singing in a chorus and in a "weird screech" voice - and the negative reception by girls. Any solution that encourages the boys would have to educate the girls too so that there is a utual understanding and acceptance. The inconsistency of music provision in primary schools and the attendant low expectations on the part of the teachers also plays its part, comments from the boys echoing some that have already been made on this forum ("In primary school they made us do crazy things like sing little campfire songs"; "Our school choir is embarrassing, they sing silly little songs like Red, Red Robin"). Ashley concludes "I can think of few better ways of 'fostering respect and empathy between the generations' and combating the 'culture of celebrity' than those activitie where children and adults sing together. We need to devise ingenious ways of showing primary-aged boys that older boys do sing and can have great fun through mixing with different generations". And that is where his research is now heading.

 

Similar stuff here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6434409.stm

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It does seem to me that there is something of a 'grumpy old men' flavour to this strand. It really doesn't have to be this bad.

 

We've got thirteen kids in the choir here at Holy Trinity, Hereford - very ordinary kids from local schools. We're no-compromise NEH and standard 'cathedral' anthems/setting territory.

 

The other day I asked some of our senoir choristers: 'So why do you turn up week by week?' 'Because we love the music' they said, quite unprompted by me. The trick is to find a way to clear the ignorant adults out of the way - maybe bypass the teaching profession if it isn't helping.

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It does seem to me that there is something of a 'grumpy old men' flavour to this strand. It really doesn't have to be this bad.

 

We've got thirteen kids in the choir here at Holy Trinity, Hereford - very ordinary kids from local schools. We're no-compromise NEH and standard 'cathedral' anthems/setting territory.

 

The other day I asked some of our senoir choristers: 'So why do you turn up week by week?' 'Because we love the music' they said, quite unprompted by me. The trick is to find a way to clear the ignorant adults out of the way - maybe bypass the teaching profession if it isn't helping.

Sounds like my sort of church! This chimes with what Martin Ashley seems to have found above - that in choirs that pride themselves on high standards the boys are treated more like mini-adults than kids and they respond very positively to this.

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It really doesn't have to be this bad. We've got thirteen kids in the choir here at Holy Trinity, Hereford - very ordinary kids from local schools. (break) The trick is to find a way to clear the ignorant adults out of the way - maybe bypass the teaching profession if it isn't helping.

The success of HTH is wonderful, but I'm guessing that this is as a result of fruitful collaboration between clergy, churchwardens, PCC, congregation, sources of funding and the musicians. Take away the support of one or two of these elements, as in plenty of other places, and the whole edifice begins to look very shaky indeed.

 

While at university, I was assistant at a large suburban parish church with a youthful mixed choir largely 'grown' by the D of M, having inherited the seeds from his predecessor. The standard was surprisingly good, especially given the relative lack of experience in the back rows, and the repertoire was wide-ranging and challenging - Palestrina, Bach, Purcell, Walton, Murrill, Britten etc. When the D of M left (shortly followed by me for other reasons) it took precisely five months for this whole music set-up to evaporate, replaced by worship songs and the sort of sheer amateurism you find in so many churches. There was no school support directly, but there was a primary school close by which allowed recruitment.

 

Stewart's comment about 'grumpy old men' is probably not far off the mark, but I think that in very many churches, it DOES have to be that bad, because overturning the attitudes and mindsets of those in the churches and those in the schools is impossible at times. The linked BBC article demonstrates the tide we're swimming against. At Holy Trinity Hereford, as in the example I gave, the success or failure of a children's singing enterprise is obviously determined by the person running it - there is no institutional success or failure, which means that success in one church has zero effect on a parish ten miles away, and we simply don't have enough good musicians in churches to challenge current musical attitudes. We do need some positive role models for church singing, and as the RSCM seems to regard all church music as equal right now, we need to look elsewhere for this. Something is needed to capture the attention of school teaching staff and convey the information that singing is good for children (and adults!) and - crucially - that a parish church choir is in many respects the perfect place to do it.

 

...that in choirs that pride themselves on high standards the boys are treated more like mini-adults than kids and they respond very positively to this.

This has always been my experience too. Give them responsibility, and they will act responsibly. It's amazing how many parents and teachers like to suggest that this is tantamount to stealing their childhood though...

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We do need some positive role models for church singing, and as the RSCM seems to regard all church music as equal right now, we need to look elsewhere for this. Something is needed to capture the attention of school teaching staff and convey the information that singing is good for children (and adults!) and - crucially - that a parish church choir is in many respects the perfect place to do it.

I quite agree. We (as a nation) need to stamp on this brainless notion that boys singing in the treble register is unnatural.

 

This has always been my experience too. Give them responsibility, and they will act responsibly. It's amazing how many parents and teachers like to suggest that this is tantamount to stealing their childhood though...

Well, actually I have heard of choirs in the past where that might have been the case. I also remember once seeing an advert in the Church Times for an Organist/Choirmaster that said specifically that they were looking for a choirmaster, not a Managing Director! But generally I think you can tell whether the boys are enjoying what they do.

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I also remember once seeing an advert in the Church Times for an Organist/Choirmaster that said specifically that they were looking for a choirmaster, not a Managing Director! But generally I think you can tell whether the boys are enjoying what they do.

I knew one choir that was definitely run by a Chairman of the Bored... :(

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  • 2 weeks later...

On another (non-musical) forum I occasionally visit, I found a thread entitled "Christmas Music" inviting people to name their favourite Christmas songs. The first nominations were:

 

Shakin' Stevens - 'Merry Christmas Everyone'

Aimee Mann - "Calling on Mary"

Elton John - "Step into Christmas"

Mariah Carey - "All I want for Christmas"

 

And then they started to go downhill with even more inane ineptitude.

 

A classic demonstration of what Christmas means for people today.

 

The only poster I felt any sympathy for (and it was considerable) was one who claimed to have spent a number of years devising suitable tortures for Paul McCartney for his "excorable mound of excrement 'Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time'", the best being "to cut the bottom out of a microwave, place it over his head and put it on the lowest possible setting so that it lasts as long as possible before his brain turns to scrambled egg." Sadly, however, there was no evidence that his taste was anything superior.

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