Stephanie Seeney and Mike Brewer sing choirs' praises
Singing is now firmly established in the curriculum as a vital component of musical experience and its value in developing transferable skills - including memory, literacy, social awareness and responsibility - is widely accepted.
This rebirth of singing in schools is taking place in the context of a decline in singing among young people. It is still "uncool", especially among boys. The decline of church choirs and traditional hymn-singing means that boys in particular no longer acquire the skills of reading music at sight and quick learning that have been the hallmark of British choral singing for centuries.
Thanks to the dedication of particular individuals there are hundreds of schools involved in singing performance, and the Sainsbury's Choir of the Year goes from strength to strength, as do the Schools Proms. The British Federation of Young Choirs has funded and organised the placing of "animateurs" in several local authorities to encourage and develop singing programmes in and between schools. The Voices Foundation also has facilitated the training of young teachers in singing.
All art needs examples of excellence, and the most able young people need to be stretched to achieve their full potential. This is where an organisation such as the National Youth Choir of Great Britain has developed its role over the past 18 years.
The NYCGB was formed in 1981 frm the original British Youth Choir under Sheffield county music adviser, David Clover. His successor, Carl Browning, revamped the choir, introducing nationwide auditions and inviting Mike Brewer to be musical director.
Alongside its high-profile performances and tours, the choir has evolved its educational objectives steadily over the years. Singing teachers give every chorister individual help during courses. Section leaders have responsibility for music learning, morale and pastoral care. In 1995, the National Youth Training Choir for ages 12-18 was set up, with a 50 per cent focus on musicianship training, including sight-singing, aural classes and theory.
Having recently performed the new work The Armed Man by Carl Jenkins at the Royal Albert Hall for Classic FM, the choir will sing in two Proms for the BBC in August, including a combined concert with National Youth Orchestra, National Youth Brass Band and Wind Orchestra. NYC is involved in outreach, world music, maintaining the European tradition of musical excellence in established repertoire, promoting new music and being a flagship for the joy and thrill of achieving the highest standards in singing.
The National Youth Choir is seeking new singers. If you have students between 12 and 18 who you think merit a place, do ask them to audition.
Mike Brewer is musical director of the National Youth Choir and Stephanie Seeney is an alto singer in the choir