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December 15, 2007

British government launches national singing program

The Daily Telegraph (UK):

Like Christmas pudding, singing out loud is something many of us indulge in just once a year, at carol concerts. And even then we don't exactly throw ourselves into it. For while those who won school singing cups are giving it all they've got in the final chorus of Hark The Herald Angels Sing, the rest of us recall the pained look on our music teachers' faces and emit a suitably sotto voce sound, for fear of offending our fellow congregation members' ears.

For us, then, the damage has been done and, in true Hunchback of Notre Dame fashion, we are condemned to dwell forever in the singing shadows, hiding our misshapen vocal efforts from the world. But while it may be too late for us, there's a chance that today's generation of schoolchildren may be spared the same fate.

A new Government initiative entitled Sing Up! is putting £40 million into the promotion of singing in primary schools over the next four years. This will pay for the instruction of non-musically-trained teachers, the creation of 24 region-wide singing programmes and choral initiatives, plus a national online songbook which will play selected tunes and provide accompanying classroom exercises.

Time was, of course, when all these tasks would have been carried out by the school's full-time music teacher - usually a formidable female with a distinctly percussive way with the piano keys. But not any more.

"The days of the permanent primary school music teacher are long gone," says Caroline Sindall of the charity Voices Foundation. "For many years now, music has been the poor cousin compared to other subjects, and that has meant generations of children have missed out on the beneficial effects of music generally and of singing in particular."

Singing also appeals to cash-strapped schools because it involves large numbers of pupils all at once. Whereas learning the violin takes time, money and individual tuition, belting out Morning Has Broken can involve several hundred pupils at one go. Furthermore, as well as being a mass participation event, singing offers stacks of spin-off benefits for the individuals involved.

"Singing in class is something I got a great deal from," says pop star Jamelia, who attended Kingshurst City Technology College in Birmingham. "It really helped to build my confidence and taught me how to express myself better."

And don't forget the academic benefits, either. "Singing can be used to improve motor skills and language development, as well as cognitive abilities in maths," says celebrated composer Howard Goodall (ex-Stowe and Oxford). "The skills needed for singing - among them listening and co-ordination - also help develop the brain. Singing also builds a child's self-esteem, promotes teamwork irrespective of age, gender and background, celebrates diversity, facilitates self-expression - and is just plain fun."

But it's not simply a matter of teachers switching on the Sing Up! computer songbook and putting their feet up for the rest of the lesson. "Almost invariably, the best school choirs or choral societies have an energetic and charismatic teacher at their head," says Bette Gray-Fow, an experienced schools director of music and former lecturer in education at the Open University.

"People talk about the importance of inclusive teaching, but one of the very hardest challenges is to persuade boys to get involved in singing. While reluctant to sing in mixed choirs - because of girls teasing them or embarrassment over breaking voices - many teenage boys enjoy singing in all-male environments, such as barbershop quartets, which are quite disciplined and involve lots of camaraderie.

"The important thing for both sexes, though, is for teachers to emphasise that singing is a skill and not a gift," she says. "You need to show pupils the proper way to stand and breathe; they need to be taught how to sing up rather than out. And to sing in a register that suits their voice, rather than straining it. Help children acquire the techniques of singing and you're giving them a hobby for life."

Not to mention a glimpse of the divine, says Alun Jones, head teacher of St Gabriel's School in Newbury, Berks, a private school for 500 girls (aged three-18). "The beauty of music lies in the fact that it is a universal language of harmony that people of all ages and ethnicity can connect with on any level," he declares. "Even girls who remain somewhat sceptical about religion can derive much more from music than they initially thought possible. I believe that where words fail, music speaks - and feeds our soul on a daily basis."

As it's so close to Christmas I will allow myself to imagine a world where all the governments spent such large sums of money on helping kids to sing. Imagine how societies would benefit if just some of the money spent on the military was used instead for our children wellbeing. Kudos to the British taxpayers for spending their money so wisely. Our President meanwhile just vetoed a bill that would help provide health insurance for kids…

Posted by acapnews at December 15, 2007 12:03 AM


Online singing is great, and will help those who are beginners and pros alike to become better singers.

Online singing courses can and will make the enormous task of learning the skill of singing much less difficult.

History proves that there have always been tyrants and despots throughout history. Without a military to protect it, how will free nations survive?

Varick Hudson

Posted by: Varick Hudson at October 7, 2009 1:22 AM

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