Giving voice to musical talent

Glasgow primary pupils are getting expert singing tuition, Elizabeth Buie writes

The halls are alive with the sound of music across Glasgow's primary schools. Harking back to the halcyon days when every Scottish schoolchild received singing instruction from a music specialist, the rafters are ringing to the sound of young voices practising their sol-fa.

In February 2003 the First Minister pledged that by 2006 every primary pupil would have the opportunity to receive at least one year's free music tuition by the time they reached P6, backed by pound;17.5 million over three years. The Scottish Executive's youth music initiative gave vocal tuition parity with instrumental instruction, which was music to the ears of the National Youth Choir of Scotland.

Glasgow identified a need to provide a weekly programme of vocal instruction in 50 primary schools initially and commissioned NYCoS to manage the project. Since then, NYCoS has extended its programme to 10 instructors reaching 80 primaries across the city and the education authority has used NYCoS education programmes to train an equal number of singing and percussion tutors.

The first wave of the project targeted P6 pupils but now the authority is concentrating on P3. This year, two-thirds of the city's primaries are included in the vocal and percussion instruction initiative and by next year the authority hopes to include all its 184 primary schools.

Dorothy Gunnee, Glasgow City Council's senior instrumental instructor, plans to hold a six-week voice factory in the summer term for any P3 children who want to take part.

Mrs Gunnee and Ian Mills, the general manager of NYCoS, say that maybe, just maybe, these initiatives could lead to the creation of a Glasgow primary schools choir.

The youth music initiative instructors use Kodaly training methods. Zoltan Kodaly, a Hungarian composer (1882-1967) who has been hugely influential in the development of music teaching methods, believed: "A child should not be given an instrument before he can sing. The inner ear will develop only if his first notions of tone arise from his own singing." A typical NYCoS lesson involves singing games and basic musicianship training - learning sol-fa, rhythm, elementary sight-reading and notation - based on resources developed by Lucinda Geoghegan of NYCoS.

Class teachers attend the music classes too, as the project is designed to be a professional development experience. They also have access to additional training from NYCoS staff after school.

At St Stephen's Primary in the Springburn area of Glasgow, vocal instructor Maureen McMullan teaches a P3 and a P6 class. The teachers of the two classes are, by coincidence, both probationer teachers and have no formal background in music. Both Lisa Moretti and Christine McKelvie relish the opportunity to learn from the NYCoS trained instructor about how to deliver a singing lesson.

Miss McKelvie, who is learning to read music with her P6 pupils, took the twilight classes too. "It gave me confidence that I could actually teach music," she says.

At the P6 stage, one of the singing games favoured by Miss McMullan is Categories. She will choose the category, fruit, for instance, and sing the name of a kind of fruit in a particular musical pattern and rhythm. The pupils must then sing another fruit back to her in the same pattern. Anyone who repeats a name that has already been sung is out, as is anyone who fails to come up with a new name.

The children clearly love the games and are making steady progress in learning to read music.

Miss McMullan says that when she starts with a class, many are very shy.

Only a few are sufficiently extrovert to sing out in front of the others.

As the weeks go by, most find their voice. She has worked with children who are elective mutes but they are gradually persuaded to whisper their responses along with the rest of the class.

Mrs Gunnee says: "We believe it's been good for the children's discipline and concentration. It also offers an opportunity for some of the less able to achieve and achieve on apparently equal terms with others in the class."

Miss Moretti agrees. "My P3 children had problems with rhythm but because a lot of the work is based on rhythm and beats, it has made a difference," she says.

"In this class they are focused and because they are doing games, not just sitting and singing a song, they enjoy it that much more. I find it is good for their concentration.

"Some were quite quiet in the class but they have come out of their shell in the singing class. One boy in particular just shines. That's Augustine, who has come here from Ghana. It is so nice to see him getting involved in it."

NYCoS, tel 0141 287 2857

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