A school which is learning to sing

When asked by a prospective parent earlier this week whether we have a choir, I found myself quietly pleased to be able to tell her that we have five; and then I realised that actually we now have six – Chapel Choir, Girls’ Choir, the Choir who can’t sing, Chamber Choir, Junior Chamber Choir and, new this term, Year 9 Choir.

It’s been a long climb over six years, but singing is happening everywhere now. The House Music Festival this September was the best I’ve heard, and Farm House choir’s performance of It’s all about you (McFly) made our adjudicator “envious that [he] can’t (quite yet) get a group of lads to sing as well as this.” Chamber Choir sang Stanford’s Beati quorum via in Chapel this Saturday, and the school listened attentively and in silence. I have a real sense that, as a whole school, we are on the cusp of something really very exciting. On the back of House Music, and with more and more pupils in choirs – not least the Choir who can’t sing who are so proud of their newly found voices – I believe that we are approaching a critical mass of pupils who between them could be capable of shifting the equilibrium of school singing.

CWCS Oct15

One of the difficulties with whole school singing until now has been how to persuade a considerable number of boys not to sing ‘in the undergrowth’ [ie an octave too low – in the same way that teenagers speak down here too, and don’t exhibit too much of their emotion through their voices!] A fortnight ago, in whole school singing practice, I managed for the first time ever to get the huge majority of them out of the depths and up into the right range, and the result was thrilling. It has long been my dream that one day it will be the norm for the whole school to come to Chapel and experience the joy of singing together, uninhibited. Perhaps we’re getting close….

To help them along, I’ve set myself a target for the coming months; to voice test every boy in the school. About 80 are either in a choir or else I already know that they can sing, so that leaves about 160 to hunt down, one by one! They all know that I’m passionate about getting them singing, and hopefully they’ll be willing to go along with me on this one. Just a quick assessment to see 1) whether they can sing back a couple of notes and 2) to see whether they can sing something around the middle C mark. And in all seriousness, at the same time I hope to gather a few stats on something which has bothered me for a long time. It is claimed that about 4% of the population is tone deaf, and I simply can’t accept that. I’ve read a few papers on the subject, and there seems to be very little reference in any of them to nurture.

I have had some amazing successes with boys in the Choir who can’t sing, boys who were all over the shop with their pitching who have learned to sing in tune. One School House lad springs immediately to mind, who was incredibly weak to begin with, and now, several years on, sings wonderfully – and happens to have been blessed with a naturally beautiful voice. And another boy who had always believed himself to be tone deaf because he was told that as a child. He sang a full range of notes beautifully in tune, and when I pointed this out, and told him that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his singing, he wept.

I’m looking forward to finding more like him.

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