Sunday, May 06, 2007

Children and special interest groups first?

Following last week’s post, somebody reminded me that the name of the BBC Radio programme which taught traditional songs from different cultures was Singing Together. It dates back to the 1950s at least, and was still on the radio until recently (2004).

There still is an abundance of music activities available to children, and in particular there is a big movement on at the moment to revive singing in schools. In January the Dept. for Education and Skills announced a £10 million package to boost music and singing for young people and appointed composer Howard Goodall as the new singing ambassador. The initiative is part of the government’s response to Music Manifesto’s report: Making Every Child’s Music Matter.

I am, however, very sceptical. It seems to me that this is another case of pendulum swinging: there was once vibrant music provision in schools which has since been cut back, and now the government want to re-instate it. But how will this affect the place of music in people’s lives as they get older? It’s all very well pumping money and effort into kids’ 12 or so years at school, but what then? Why do people not keep up singing through their 20s and 30s in general?

There are so many initiatives these days for particular, well-defined groups like the young, the disadvantaged and the old. But what about the people in the middle? All that money and effort goes into introducing young people to music, then they’re left to their own devices when they leave school. Choirs are often seen as a little fuddy duddy and formal, and evening classes are for grown ups (besides, who wants to go back to studying so soon?!). There are youth orchestras, youth bands, youth choirs, young people’s workshops, song writing initiatives for young people, studios for kids, etc. etc. But then what?

Apparently the dark ages of music and singing in schools is over. No more: “stand at the back and mime”, or “you’re not good enough to be in the choir”. But us Natural Voice Practitioners still get people coming to us who were thoroughly put off by their experience of music teaching in schools.

It could be argued that singing in a group is just not cool enough for young people once they’ve left school. But what about all the role models in pop music of boy and girl bands singing in close harmony? And how come that when people do eventually come back to singing, they say how much they’ve missed it?

Answers please, on a postcard to …

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