DROP IN THE OCEAN. Youth Music's Song for Youth
Having trouble with maths? Or English? Struggling in class? Ten-year-old Leah Grimshaw has an internal coping mechanism when the going gets tough. She sings - silently, to herself; losing herself for a moment in one of the songs from a wide repertoire sung at school. She says singing puts things into perspective and makes her feel better.
This summer, Leah's head has been full of song, as the children of Lindley junior school in Huddersfield, where Leah is a pupil, have been rehearsing a powerful pop ballad, "Drop in the Ocean". This celebratory song for the Queen's Golden Jubilee has been distributed to schools, youth groups and choirs nationally by the National Foundation for Youth Music (NFYM), and has so far provided a focus for more than 100 singing and music events involving thousands of young people, with more dates reaching into 2003.
In Huddersfield, it formed the heart of a concert at Huddersfield Town FC's stadium celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kirklees Music School as well as the Golden Jubilee, and involving 3,000 primary and secondary pupils. One of the first grand-scale performances was at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey; 200 schools took part. Before the term is over, it will have featured in dozens of smaller events and concerts in schools nationwide.
Written by composer and conductor Tolga Kashif, "Drop in the Ocean" is an emotionally charged, uplifting yet simple ballad intended to help children view themselves as a unique part of the whole "ocean" of human consciousness. Kashif wants to give children a strong message that makes them want to sing together. The NFYM wants to bring the joys of singing to as many children as possible, through high-profile events, in the hope that big-group, whole-class and whole-school singing can re-establish a foothold in the curriculum.
Kashif says: "Singing is an essential part of wellbeing, a complete part of humanity. People sing as part of their cultural traditions all over the world, but in certain parts of the UK there is a distinct lack. The national curriculum has meant it is not a priority, but I don't want it to be confined to a small handful of schools. Singing is for everyone; it engages the whole metabolism and engenders confidence. It is magical."
"Drop in the Ocean" is the latest in a series of NFYM "singing challenges" to encourage young people to take up singing. Projects include adult choirs working with children, help for schools to compose new songs, choreographers improving school singing by encouraging children to move, and the establishment of a repertoire of boy-friendly songs.
Singing already has a hold at Lindley, where it plays a crucial role in enriching the curriculum at this successful school (in most years 90 per cent of children achieve level 4 in key stage 2 SATs and nearly half attain level 5). Nine-year-old James Sykes says singing helps people to learn by making them feel better. "We sing nearly all the time here. It really livens things up when you are down. Like in the song ("Drop in the Ocean") we can make something wonderful when we are all together."
Alison Reeks, the school's music co-ordinator, believes the song will become an important part of an already rich repertoire that all pupils sing. She teaches class music for half of her timetable, which includes a structured approach to singing. Pupils sing in assembly every day, and with their class and their year group every week. There is a training choir of more than 120 children and an auditioned school choir of 50. "Singing makes you high, it can give you a real lift. The children here really go for it, and it can be spine-tingling. Sometimes it takes my breath away," she says.
Lindley benefits from Mrs Reeks's background as a semi-professional singer, and her choir has won many awards. But "Drop in the Ocean" is intended to kick-start singing in schools that have no musical expertise or tradition. NFYM has produced 40,000 "Drop in the Ocean" packs, which include the lyrics, instrumental and vocal scores and a CD featuring recordings by male and female singers (separately), with a band and with piano, as well as backing tracks and warm-up exercises. As Mrs Reeks says:
"If you had no musical background you would be able to have a go very effectively. It will give non-musicians the confidence to go on and do other songs with their pupils."
David Sulkin, NFYM's head of policy and programmes, says singing took a "nose-dive" in schools following the introduction of the national curriculum and the squeeze on time, but that it is an innate "human activity" that makes people feel good and motivated. "You don't have to go to a shop to buy your voice; it's all about the spirit of the incoming breath and how it is moderated on the way out. When we go to weddings, funerals and football matches, we sing. We want to encourage children to sing together in large groups as much as possible."
Tom Meredith, assistant principal at Kirklees Music School, trained teachers in the authority for its performance in using the pack. "We have a strong choral tradition in the authority but 'Drop in the Ocean' has been a catalyst for some schools to get involved," he says. "It's about building confidence for teachers and pupils. Singing together is life-enhancing."
Apply for a free 'Drop in the Ocean' pack at www.youthmusic.org.uk, or telephone: 0845 6021996.The next large-scale performances of the song will be at Grimsby junior schools' music festival on June 18 and 19, London's String of Pearls festival, Berkeley Square, on June 23 and North Warwickshire's schools' Intercultural Festival, Bedworth Civic Hall, on June 24