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£10m Boost For Singing In Primary Schools

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6264899.stm

 

Given the importance of choirs to most us, surely this is a good thing? But does it go far enough? Do we need to promote it in secondary schools as well, or is that a lost cause in today's culture?

 

I hope this thread is not so off topic as to be totally irrelevant, but I thought a discussion might be interesting.

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6264899.stm

 

Given the importance of choirs to most us, surely this is a good thing? But does it go far enough? Do we need to promote it in secondary schools as well, or is that a lost cause in today's culture?

 

I hope this thread is not so off topic as to be totally irrelevant, but I thought a discussion might be interesting.

 

Some of us still promote it in secondary schools and if my daughters' primary school is anything to go by (where they do sing and where music is supported) it depends very much on where the Head Teacher decides that he or she wants to spend the money. The money from 'on high' will of course help but it remains to be seen how much good Howard Goodall's input will do.

 

AJJ

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6264899.stm

 

Given the importance of choirs to most us, surely this is a good thing? But does it go far enough? Do we need to promote it in secondary schools as well, or is that a lost cause in today's culture?

 

I hope this thread is not so off topic as to be totally irrelevant, but I thought a discussion might be interesting.

 

This is good news indeed. One thing that had never entered my mind is how many choral pieces people cannot sing if they’re from other religions. This just highlighted how narrow my choral field of vision is.

 

;)

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Guest Cynic
This is good news indeed. One thing that had never entered my mind is how many choral pieces people cannot sing if they’re from other religions. This just highlighted how narrow my choral field of vision is.

 

;)

 

I wonder how many of us heard the coverage given to this on yesterday's PM programme on Radio 4. Eddie Mair mentioned that part of the initiative is that a songbook of 10 items is to be produced which all children will be expected to learn. He then brought in some prominent musicians and asked them to suggest how these precious ten items could be chosen. Michael Berkeley suggested the Rachmaninov 'Vocalise', a trendy gentleman whose name meant nothing to me suggested 'Stand up for your Rights' by Bob Marley and so it went on. :lol:

 

OFF AT A TANGENT!

Ten songs?!! They should be learning ten songs every year - with fresh ones each succeeding year! At my first OFSTED inspection (which is now nearly ten years ago) my department was criticised for doing too much singing. <_< Why? The inspector caught us little more than a week before a school concert.

 

My practice was that everyone (across years 7-9) would learn several items in class and then the keenest ones would volunteer and form what amounted to a year choir for the concert. It was a very practical idea - the more kids you have in your concert the more parents will come! Actually, I used to dangle 'free' periods for final rehearsals in front of the kids as an inducement to volunteer, and they would help choose which subjects would be missed in the last week of term. It always worked. Anyway... in an all-boys school we had regular concert performer numbers of 150 plus - but I digress.

 

 

RANT ALERT!

 

The point is... the present situation is the direct result of having 'experts' on high who dictate forcibly and unilaterally to every poor mug who actually has to carry out the work. I have a particular beef about this because I know/knew the one man who has been 'the expert for Music' so far as HMG has been concerned for the last twenty years. I and my colleagues on moderation panels knew him and his works when he taught in a leafy comprehensive in South Shropshire. He only ever taught in this one school (having started there straight from college as head of department) and then he shot up the greasy pole!! As 'the' adviser his notions have progressively boiled the Music GCSE course down, and in his time he has encouraged such things as the Edexcel exam at A level where you no longer need to perform in order to get a good grade in Music.

 

 

RANT OVER

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The BBC article says that the songbook will contain 30 songs, but yes, you would have thought they could do better than that. But I would hope the book is only intended to provide a "core" of songs and is not meant to be used exclusively.

 

I note that the songs in the book will be nominated by teachers and children. This could be good news or bad, depending. Whatever styles of songs are chosen I hope Howard Goodall or someone will impose some discretion regarding quality. Popular does not automatically mean good.

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Whilst anything that encourages more participation in music is obviously a good thing, I wonder how many primary schools have anyone capable of teaching children to sing properly. I've frequently had to deal with the complication that primary school teachers give the children instructions directly the opposite of good singing technique - like "look up for the high notes", which makes the church choir-trainer's life so much more difficult.

 

I also wonder just how dumbed-down the 10 chosen songs will be, not just in terms of musical style, but also in the range of the notes. When I did teacher training in the late 70's I vividly remember the head of the music department instructing us students (most of whom studiously wrote it down, whilst I of course argued) never to pick anything that went above a D (ie. 4th line treble clef) because 'junior school children cant sing that high'.

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Whilst anything that encourages more participation in music is obviously a good thing, I wonder how many primary schools have anyone capable of teaching children to sing properly.

For that money, organising a few days' of training courses and cover should be possible? (Would the RSCM submit a bid for providing this?)

 

never to pick anything that went above a D (ie. 4th line treble clef) because 'junior school children cant sing that high'.

Couldn't agree with Neil more, top A in 'O Fortuna' at age 11 was my experience...

 

Vox's doubt on persistence through the school system rings true. My wife's primary school choir is usually 50 to 80 strong, (up to age 8), holds up at middle school but at the local comp (top of the pyramid) there's no choir at all. There's a great peripatetic singing teacher, and you get individual girls doing terrific pop solos, but...

 

Maybe the Dept of Ed is starting at primary level, and, like numeracy/literacy, the change will filter up the system as a generation of kids gets older? (Is that what happened?)

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Maybe the Dept of Ed is starting at primary level, and, like numeracy/literacy, the change will filter up the system as a generation of kids gets older?
It would be nice to think so, but I suspect it would not be so simple. Singing has to overcome the very significant the problem of image. Primary school kids are not that self-conscious, but by the time they get to their teens they regard it as seriously sissy to be seen singing. At least the boys do; perhaps the girls don't mind so much.

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Vox, I think that was exactly the issue I was hinting at. Anybody have a clue how to solve this in a mixed comp? It wasn't a pressure we felt, in an all-boys grammar (in the 1970's).

 

Is there a genre of particularly 'butch' repertoire? where the boys can show off? Theatre musicals, of course...(?)

 

Maybe the answer is to take the choirs out of school in the teenage years. I forgot earlier to mention the excellent County Music Service (at least, it is in Staffs) in this context.

(But even there, nobody teaches the organ... one for another thread?).

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Vox, I think that was exactly the issue I was hinting at. Anybody have a clue how to solve this in a mixed comp? It wasn't a pressure we felt, in an all-boys grammar (in the 1970's).

 

Is there a genre of particularly 'butch' repertoire? where the boys can show off? Theatre musicals, of course...(?)

 

Maybe the answer is to take the choirs out of school in the teenage years. I forgot earlier to mention the excellent County Music Service (at least, it is in Staffs) in this context.

(But even there, nobody teaches the organ... one for another thread?).

 

It’s hard to know how to get teenage lads to sing. A musical like West side story will probably help. One of the problems is how to approach the voice breaking? Do you sing through or do you stop until things settle down? I do think it’s important to start singing at an early age.

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Whilst anything that encourages more participation in music is obviously a good thing, I wonder how many primary schools have anyone capable of teaching children to sing properly. I've frequently had to deal with the complication that primary school teachers give the children instructions directly the opposite of good singing technique - like "look up for the high notes", which makes the church choir-trainer's life so much more difficult.

 

I also wonder just how dumbed-down the 10 chosen songs will be, not just in terms of musical style, but also in the range of the notes. When I did teacher training in the late 70's I vividly remember the head of the music department instructing us students (most of whom studiously wrote it down, whilst I of course argued) never to pick anything that went above a D (ie. 4th line treble clef) because 'junior school children cant sing that high'.

 

"I wonder how many primary schools have anyone capable of teaching children to sing properly."

 

Enough damage has been to childrens' voices by organists who think that a diploma in organ playing qualifies them to teach singing under the guide of choir training. Singing requires, even for juniors, as much technique as playing an instrument. Let us hope that only proper singing teachers will be allowed near the children.

 

Barry Williams

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"I wonder how many primary schools have anyone capable of teaching children to sing properly."

 

Enough damage has been to childrens' voices by organists who think that a diploma in organ playing qualifies them to teach singing under the guide of choir training. Singing requires, even for juniors, as much technique as playing an instrument. Let us hope that only proper singing teachers will be allowed near the children.

 

Barry Williams

Or even organists with no diploma (perhaps the majority).

 

I quite agree that any choir trainer that has not themself studied voice production should hang their head in shame. Surely none of us would set up as a violin teacher if we had never received formal tuition in the instrument and, hopefully, reached a reasonable level of accomplishment ourself?

 

Not sure however about your last sentence, cant quite decide whether its tongue in cheek. Its probably better to have childen encouraged to sing even if badly trained that not encouraged at all.

 

I often think that, were I a school teacher, if I spotted a pupil with a particular talent, I would see it as my duty to put them in touch with the relevant local association (or give them a list) that specialised in fostering that talent. For example, if you were to notice a good runner, surely you'd take the trouble to find out the contact for the local athletics club and point the parents in the right direction. My impression is that this rarely, if ever, happens. What a waste. This sort of behaviour (from teachers) should be what the government puts effort into correcting. Teachers in schools, particularly junior schools, can not be expected to have great skills in particular sports, drama, visual arts or music, so why not encourage them to spot potential and point children to the vast array of local organisations able to support and develop those talents? Even at secondary schools, particularly in the state sector (to which my children subscribe) the level of expertise shown by music teachers is woeful. What is it that makes school teachers believe that conducting a choir is all about putting your hands higher or lower depending upon the pitch of the notes?

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Or even organists with no diploma (perhaps the majority).

 

I quite agree that any choir trainer that has not themself studied voice production should hang their head in shame. Surely none of us would set up as a violin teacher if we had never received formal tuition in the instrument and, hopefully, reached a reasonable level of accomplishment ourself?

 

Not sure however about your last sentence, cant quite decide whether its tongue in cheek. Its probably better to have childen encouraged to sing even if badly trained that not encouraged at all.

 

I often think that, were I a school teacher, if I spotted a pupil with a particular talent, I would see it as my duty to put them in touch with the relevant local association (or give them a list) that specialised in fostering that talent. For example, if you were to notice a good runner, surely you'd take the trouble to find out the contact for the local athletics club and point the parents in the right direction. My impression is that this rarely, if ever, happens. What a waste. This sort of behaviour (from teachers) should be what the government puts effort into correcting. Teachers in schools, particularly junior schools, can not be expected to have great skills in particular sports, drama, visual arts or music, so why not encourage them to spot potential and point children to the vast array of local organisations able to support and develop those talents? Even at secondary schools, particularly in the state sector (to which my children subscribe) the level of expertise shown by music teachers is woeful. What is it that makes school teachers believe that conducting a choir is all about putting your hands higher or lower depending upon the pitch of the notes?

 

I like your thinking, but if a particular school doesn’t carry out some form of singing (or sport or whatever) then you’d probably never spot the talent in the first place. Sadly, as money becomes ever tighter then cuts are made; these cuts are nearly always made to the arts. To teach music you need a degree in music, but does a degree in music qualify you to conduct a choir? Is it better to have an enthusiastic teacher running and conducting a choir or no choir at all?

:)

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Just to correct/amend my ill-informed comment further up this topic, I gather that Howard Goodall has been heard to say that he would like a songbook of more like 300 items than 30, but I am still fairly sure that a booklet of 10 songs was the number mentioned initially on Radio 4.

 

Mind you, I have been wrong before.

 

As to whether singing should be decently taught - yes this would be nice. But any singing is better than no singing. At my last school (in Gloucester), we usually drew most of our students at age 11 from 13 different Junior Schools. In a couple of these their only singing consisted of hymns in assembly. I know that by law there has to be music everywhere in state schools, but worse than these first group, the kids from two other feeder schools told me themselves (as opposed to fancy things entered into work schemes) they actually had never had any singing at all. This may sound far-fetched, but remember - junior schools can find it hard to get teachers with even rudimentary piano skills and the curriculum is so heavily under pressure: schools have to keep an eye on those wretched league tables where no value is given to anything but English, Maths and Science.

 

As to ages, well (as with everything else) to do something well you've got to 'catch them young'. All children should sing - it's good for them physically and it's a perfect non-competitive group activity.

 

Advisers again, tend to cock things up:

I couldn't believe it when an initial legal requirement at age 14 at one Government Initiative (Con then, I think) was that all students should be individually tested on singing as part of their end of Key Stage 3 music assessments. I have to be honest, we always dodged around this one.... I don't know if anyone took it seriously. For a start, is there a worse age to test the singing of either sex than 14?

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"I wonder how many primary schools have anyone capable of teaching children to sing properly."

 

Enough damage has been to childrens' voices by organists who think that a diploma in organ playing qualifies them to teach singing under the guide of choir training. Singing requires, even for juniors, as much technique as playing an instrument. Let us hope that only proper singing teachers will be allowed near the children.

 

Barry Williams

 

Probably less than the children do to themselves by shouting across the school grounds at each other during recess.

 

Clearly, if children are being 'taught' by someone who insists on them regularly over-singing, or producing constant top Gs, etc (with or without warm-up exercises), then damage will be done - nodules on vocal chords, husky or lost voices, etc.

 

However, I agree with Paul and Neil. I am also concerned that singing is being neglected in schools generally - not just at junior level. I am keen to see an increase in singing. Even without great skill (and bearing in mind Neil's point about there not being specialist subject teachers in junior schools) some regular singing slots during the school week can be beneficial.

 

It could also justifiably be argued that playing sport at junior level is dangerous - more so, than singing, in fact. Whilst bones do not generally ossify fully until about the age of seventeen (although some bones can take up to four or five years longer - I believe that the clavicle is in this category) they are particularly soft and susceptible to damage at junior school age. I remember clearly that at junior school, our class teacher taught us every subject - including games. Aside from the fact that he was physiologically un-biased towards regular excercise, he was definitely not qualified to teach games as a specialist subject. Fortunately, none of us suffered any lasting damage.

 

Now that, to me, holds a far greater propensity for causing physical harm than singing lessons conducted by a middle-aged spinster with purple hair*, a voice like hysterical gravel and who was previously qualified as a quantitiy surveyor.

 

* Apparently, it was supposed to be a blue rinse, but she often fell asleep whilst waiting to wash-out the dye. Thus the purple hair.

 

However, this does not explain the sideburns....

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My concern was not so altuistic, ie. not so much worrying about the little dears damaging their voices as worrying that it makes my life difficult to instill one method of singing if their being asked to do completely opposite things at school.

 

I took the example of high notes, where I've come across many instances of children being instructed to put their heads up for high notes when, as far as I'm concerned, they should be taught to look down slightly for the high notes. Another frequent problem is with children being encouraged to sing with "Letterbox Mouths", when I would want to train for open mouth shapes and open throats.

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... Another frequent problem is with children being encouraged to sing with "Letterbox Mouths", when I would want to train for open mouth shapes and open throats.

 

We have Cherie Blair to thank for this.... Her lips are generally the right colour, too.

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I quite agree that any choir trainer that has not themself studied voice production should hang their head in shame.
Well, I've only ever had one singing lesson and most of the very little I know I have picked up from other singers, so no doubt some people here would consider that I should never be allowed near a choir. Nevertheless I am delighted to say that none of the choirs I have run would agree with that and I certainly do not feel it necessary to hang my head in shame. I may not have produced any choirboy/girl of the year, but I am quite certain that neither have I ruined any voices.

 

Untrained singers have been at it since the dawn of music without doing themselves any damage. Quite a few have actually made large sums money out of it. Singing is a perfectly natural pastime and you do not have to have lessons to indulge in it - or to get a choir to produce a fine sound.

 

One may moan about what some non-singing school teachers may do to one's young choir members, but one is not automatically better off with someone who does know how to sing. There are singing teachers and singing teachers - and they are just as capable of being bitchy about each others' styles and techniques as are violinists, organists, or, probably, any other musicians. I once had a choir with a very fine tenor who, though he sounded trained, had never had a lesson in his life - he was a natural. My heart sank when one day he told me he was going to have lessons. I knew who he was going to have them with and I knew from having heard some of her other pupils what the result would be. I was right. In the space of three weeks his tone colour had darkened and his voice had assumed a somewhat muffled, strangulated quality. A retrograde step. Elsewhere I had previously witnessed exactly the same thing happen to a fine male countertenor.

 

Now, lest it be thought that I "have a thing" about singing lessons, let me make it clear that I readily acknowledge that I would be a far more efficient choir trainer if I understood the physiology and techniques of trained voice production as well as a professional singer. But how much study would I need? Is this not a case where a little knowledge may actually be more harmful than none?

 

One last question: Is singing now taught as a matter of course to organ students at conservatories and universities? It certainly wasn't in my day. If not, should it be - at least to those likely to pursue a career involving choirs?

 

Apologies: I feel I haven't expressed myself at all properly, but it's late and I can't edit it any more.

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Guest Cynic
Well, I've only ever had one singing lesson and most of the very little I know I have picked up from other singers, so no doubt some people here would consider that I should never be allowed near a choir. Nevertheless I am delighted to say that none of the choirs I have run would agree with that and I certainly do not feel it necessary to hang my head in shame. I may not have produced any choirboy/girl of the year, but I am quite certain that neither have I ruined any voices.

 

Untrained singers have been at it since the dawn of music without doing themselves any damage. Quite a few have actually made large sums money out of it. Singing is a perfectly natural pastime and you do not have to have lessons to indulge in it - or to get a choir to produce a fine sound.

 

One may moan about what some non-singing school teachers may do to one's young choir members, but one is not automatically better off with someone who does know how to sing. There are singing teachers and singing teachers - and they are just as capable of being bitchy about each others' styles and techniques as are violinists, organists, or, probably, any other musicians. I once had a choir with a very fine tenor who, though he sounded trained, had never had a lesson in his life - he was a natural. My heart sank when one day he told me he was going to have lessons. I knew who he was going to have them with and I knew from having heard some of her other pupils what the result would be. I was right. In the space of three weeks his tone colour had darkened and his voice had assumed a somewhat muffled, strangulated quality. A retrograde step. Elsewhere I had previously witnessed exactly the same thing happen to a fine male countertenor.

 

Now, lest it be thought that I "have a thing" about singing lessons, let me make it clear that I readily acknowledge that I would be a far more efficient choir trainer if I understood the physiology and techniques of trained voice production as well as a professional singer. But how much study would I need? Is this not a case where a little knowledge may actually be more harmful than none?

 

One last question: Is singing now taught as a matter of course to organ students at conservatories and universities? It certainly wasn't in my day. If not, should it be - at least to those likely to pursue a career involving choirs?

 

Apologies: I feel I haven't expressed myself at all properly, but it's late and I can't edit it any more.

 

An excellent post, Vox! I'm with you all the way on this one.

 

I know exactly what you mean about 'trained singers' and suspect some of the methods being used (currently) at some of our cathedrals where they now employ voice coaches. The essential thing is that children start young, have good singers to copy and are encouraged to use their voices comfortably. Essentially, they catch singing from each other!

 

As to the sort of voices that seem (all too often) to come from professional training, I prefer a natural sound every time. Give me 'untrained' voices rather than the BBC Daily Service Singers!

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As to the sort of voices that seem (all too often) to come from professional training, I prefer a natural sound every time. Give me 'untrained' voices rather than the BBC Daily Service Singers!

 

As long as the singers sing within their comfortable range and don’t force. About 15 years ago I sang with a bass who had a fine voice. He could read well (though not to Cathedral standard) and would often sing alto. His alto voice production was forced and not natural. After singing through a series of throat infections he discovered that not only had his alto voice disappeared, but he’d also lost most of the top of his bass range.

 

:mellow:

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6264899.stm

 

Given the importance of choirs to most us, surely this is a good thing? But does it go far enough? Do we need to promote it in secondary schools as well, or is that a lost cause in today's culture?

 

I hope this thread is not so off topic as to be totally irrelevant, but I thought a discussion might be interesting.

 

 

see also:

 

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1991992,00.html

 

 

Peter

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6264899.stm

 

Given the importance of choirs to most us, surely this is a good thing? But does it go far enough? Do we need to promote it in secondary schools as well, or is that a lost cause in today's culture?

 

I hope this thread is not so off topic as to be totally irrelevant, but I thought a discussion might be interesting.

 

 

======================

 

What a wonderful thing!

 

When they destroyed church-music and choirs disappeared from schools, I had to resort to dressing as a nun and going to "sing-along" versions of "The Sound of Music."

 

It was worth the £7.50 each time, just to hear the children singing 'Do','Re','Mi' again after so many years.

 

:unsure:

 

MM

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======================

 

What a wonderful thing!

 

When they destroyed church-music and choirs disappeared from schools, I had to resort to dressing as a nun and going to "sing-along" versions of "The Sound of Music."

 

It was worth the £7.50 each time, just to hear the children singing 'Do','Re','Mi' again after so many years.

 

:unsure:

 

MM

 

It could have been worse - you might have been reduced to wearing an outfit constructed from your dining room curtains....

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It could have been worse - you might have been reduced to wearing an outfit constructed from your dining room curtains....

 

 

=========================

 

Never mind curtain material; the great thing about a habit, is the fact that you can get away with wearing lederhosen in public undetected.

 

:unsure:

 

MM

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