Heavenly voice is child's play

Eleanor Howitt is a music specialist who has taught at Williamston Primary in Livingston since it opened 19 years ago. "I've worked at 20 schools in West Lothian," she says, "but due to financial constraints in some schools and to changes in local authority policy, this is the only one I'm still at."

Originally she came in once a week, but now she teaches for two full days. "I see the whole infant department every week and the upper school fortnightly."

This investment is down to Isobel Veitch, who retired as Williamston's headteacher at the end of last term. She is a staunch believer in the value of music to the whole school. "I was enthusiastic and wanted to invest time and money in music," she says. "I was also keen that the class teachers worked alongside Eleanor.

"We have to foster the understanding that we can't sit and enjoy listening to a choir unless the children are released from class."

Singing is the foundation of Mrs Howitt's teaching. The P4 children start singing before they get into the music room. It's a simple singing game with words about apple trees. They know it well, following each other around in a spiral, then unwinding into a circle.

As they walk around their feet beat out the pulse of the music and every one of them is singing, boys and girls, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

The class is just getting to grips with pitch. They bounce a ball around the circle and sing "Bounce high" (the pitch rises), "Bounce low" (the pitch falls). One or two can't get the hang of it, so Mrs Howitt gets the class to stand or crouch as the pitch of their voices rises or falls.

The P7 class is learning about musical texture. They move from singing in unison, into two and then three-part canon. Then, in three concentric circles, they move in different directions, singing the canon as they walk to the beat. It is a simple and yet effective way of visualising the different strands of the music.

Mrs Howitt's teaching is informed by the Kodaly method from Hungary, where every class teacher must have the equivalent of an A-level in music. The method is based on singing games and rhymes, making it easy and rewarding to use.

"Kodaly empowers the infant department," says Mrs Howitt.

Rachael Gow, the P1-2 teacher at Williamston, says: "I'm confident teaching it. I know what I'm trying to achieve and it cuts through the jargon. It's very easy just to follow the book and then discuss with Mrs Howitt what the next stage should be."

Before using Kodaly, she says, "you knew how to get by, but you weren't doing the kids justice. If I went to another school I would take this with me. Definitely."

The school day ends with the 55-strong senior choir rehearsing. They make a wonderful sound, and no wonder. It represents seven years of consistent singing-based instruction.

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