Singing together in class is back in fashion, says Christopher Lambton
Not that long ago singing in classrooms was officially discouraged. A music teacher south of Edinburgh recalls a regime in the early 1980s where "if you wanted to get ahead, you wouldn't let anyone catch you singing with children."
Thankfully we have moved on. Singing is back in fashion and the experts who determine such things have acknowledged that it is the only musical training that can be applied equally to further studies on the piano, flute, violin, or banjo.
But there is still a problem. The discipline of class singing has been forgotten. According to Christopher Bell, musical director of the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS), "there are primary teachers in this country who have never sung in class and couldn't even if they wanted to. They have neither the knowledge or the confidence to teach even the simplest rhymes and tunes."
Now help is at hand in the form of a publication from NYCoS. Singing Games and Rhymes for Early Years, compiled by Lucinda Geoghegan, is designed to encourage even the most unmusical teachers to have a go at singing in class. One aim, of course, is to rebuild the pyramidal structure of school and regional choirs to improve the quality of intake for NYCoS, which i the four years since its foundation has been consistently under strength.
However, in his introduction to the book, Christopher Bell also points out that "participation in singing games can aid other areas of the child's development (such as) use of language, fluency of speech, memory, concentration, social skills."
The book is firmly based on guidelines set by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly, who believed that singing should be the foundation of music education. Kodaly's technique has been applied here to a number of traditional songs, such as Cobbler, Cobbler, or See-saw, Margery Daw. The melodies are kept as simple as possible: there are no semitones, the range is restricted to about a sixth (six consecutive white notes on the piano), and the use of a piano is discouraged.
Bell argues that at the early stages "the piano is a barrier between you and the children, which can too often result in out-of-tune singing."
A CD with the book includes all the tunes sung by the Edinburgh and West Lothian Children's Choirs. The book is aimed at nursery to age six, with each song accompanied by actions.
Singing Games and Rhymes for Early Years, book plus CD, pound;15 plus pamp;p from National Youth Choir of Scotland, 18 Polmont Park, Polmont FK2 0XT, tel: 01324 711749