A safe place to sing

I was a little worried that ‘The Choir who can’t sing’ would be short-lived. I do have a tendency to have ‘big ideas’ which seem exciting at the time, but which soon wane when the next big idea comes along. In addition, someone pointed out to me that once I had taught these lads to sing, the job would be done, so I couldn’t call them ‘The Choir who can’t sing’ anymore. Fair point!

However, the choir is very much up and running this term, and there is as much enthusiasm for it as ever. Granted, the novelty factor might have worn off a little – after all, we have acheived what we set out to do – but that has been replaced instead with a genuine desire to sing. Whereas last year the school were talking about the choir because it was perhaps a quirky idea, now it has simply become a normal part of school life. Each week so far we have had several new boys come along to try out (all of whom have come back the following week), and from my perspective at least, it now appears to be a perfectly acceptable thing for a boy to tell his friends that he is going to ‘choir.’

One of the most thrilling aspects of the choir is that it is perfectly acceptable to come along and not be able to sing! In a regular choir, the person who can’t sing presents all sorts of problems; no one wants to stand next to them, and worst of all, they themselves feel self-conscious and inadequate. Not so in ‘The Choir who can’t sing!’ On the contrary, since most of the choir were once in that position themselves, they know exactly what it was like. This actually makes the choir a very safe learning environment.

At the beginning of each rehearsal we have a short ‘calibrating’ session; I sing a note (something low and lazy so that it’s vocally easier to find) and I then pick out a few of the more confident boys to take it in turns to repeat the note back to me. This not only sharpens the listening skills of everyone present but it also lets everyone know that it is ‘safe’ to allow themselves to be heard. Once four or five boys have had a turn, I find that even the most nervous ones will take the plunge! Of course if someone is miles out then we will have a bit of a laugh at their expense, but deep down I don’t think that anyone is in any doubt that everyone is very keen for everyone else to succeed. At the end of the rehearsal I quite often pick out two or three who are still struggling with pitching, and take them through a few basic skills; again, this might be in front of one or two others who are waiting their turn, and it is fantastic for them all to share in this, and to be encouraged by each other’s successes.

One of the cast for our school production this term, The Pirates of Penzance, can’t sing. He’ll make a great pirate (aaarrrr!) but since practically the whole show is sung, it is going to be difficult for him. Following our first rehearsal this week, I suggested that he come along to ‘The Choir who can’t sing’ to get sorted out! To my delight he showed up today, and I kept him behind afterwards. He’s a fairly typical ‘case’ – each note I sung, however low, he sang back a third-ish lower. At the end of ten minutes, he sang a bottom G, and then rising, B flat, D, G, B flat and then the D above middle C. All beautifully in tune! Not bad for a boy who has never really sung before, because he couldn’t and (perhaps not surprisingly) didn’t enjoy it. I said he should book in for another 10 minute session at some point, to which he replied ‘How about tomorrow lunchtime?’ more

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One response to “A safe place to sing

  1. Pingback: From Aaarrr to Aaahh – the pirate who learned to sing! | music@monkton

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