Something to sing about

2nd August 1996 at 01:00
Anne McHardy hears what appeals to children about a Gospel singing workshop. Ruth Lynch, only 16 but poised and very much in control, took her group of north London primary school pupils and persuaded them to sing until the Victorian rafters of St Ann's Church, Tottenham, almost lifted off.

Ruth is choir mistress of the junior Gospel choir at St David and St Katharine's, a Church of England secondary school of which the primary school attached to St Anne's is a feeder. Her school ran a series of Gospel singing workshops for local primaries during an end of summer term activities week.

With 100 pupils from the secondary school, Ruth held 400 pupils from St Ann's and two of its neighbouring schools, St Ignatius's, a Roman Catholic primary, and Crowlands, a nearby county primary, so spellbound that their teachers have asked for repeat performances. "Before next summer, please," said Nesta Murray, the head of St Ann's. Ruth's choir included several of Mrs Murray's pupils, whose charm and innocence as they stood singing on the altar steps left her delighted.

Workshops were held in two other north London churches, St James, Muswell Hill, and St Michael's, Bounds Green, with Ruth and the junior choir members organised by the senior choir directors, two of whom are former St David and St Katharine pupils who run their own community group, Youth 4 Youth G Force.

The workshops started with a song from the choir, then the audience was split into smaller work groups. These were given a 10-minute history of Gospel music followed by a demonstration of Gospel techniques. After that each group learned two songs which they then sang to the whole church. The session ended with all 500 children, primary and secondary, singing together.

The primary children marched back to their schools armed with the words of their songs and a tape of the music, a certificate marking the event and an invitation to be at Alexandra Palace a week later to watch the choir give its first major public performance to an audience of 800.

Their comments after the workshop ranged from "brilliant" to "I wouldn't mind having it again". Amani Bologna, 11, said: "I don't think I'll ever forget the words of our songs". And Annmarie Ebanks, also 11, added, "I thought that the workshop was very good and Ruth sang very brilliant".

"It was amazing to watch the workshop", said Abi Dickens, a teacher from St Ann's. "I am an Australian and I had just never seen anything like it. The kids loved it."

For the primary pupils it gave many their first taste of choir or Gospel music. Teachers said the pupils' enthusiasm showed that they had gained insights into what was a previously unknown music form. And for those getting ready to transfer into St David and St Katharine an insight into what was on offer.

The workshops had a serious purpose for the choir - to allow them to reach primaries for potential new members. For St David and St Katharine, the choir has already proved to be a recruiting ground for the sixth form. This autumn 50 more pupils than last year have applied to go on into the sixth form - all of them choir members.

The Gospel choir was formed a year ago - after pressure from pupils including Ruth Lynch. Its co-ordinator, Judy Jakes, the school's head of information technology, is a church member and a Gospel music enthusiast. "I knew that we had the enthusiasm for it but we tried for a year without succeeding because we didn't have the expertise."

Then Ruth brought in her brother, Sam, who had been at St David and St Katharine and he recruited another former pupil, Solomon Facey, and friends Jason Boothe and Shean Roberts, all already involved in Gospel music across London. The result was not one but two school choirs, a main choir directed by Jason Boothe, and the junior one directed by Ruth, both of which have attracted a wide variety of recruits from all the different ethnic groups in the very mixed secondary school.

Staff at St David and St Katharine's have been impressed by the maturity developed by the pupils involved in the choir - some of them fairly difficult children before it began - and by the choir's ability to attract members of all races, some of whom are not church members.

"I think they are the most positive thing I have seen in Haringey yet", said the vicar of St Ann's, the Rev John Wood. Mr Wood was vicar of St James's Muswell Hill at the wealthier end of the borough of Haringey, before moving to St Ann's a year ago. "They attract from right across the races and their energy is wonderful to watch," he said.

Youth 4 Youth now plan to offer autumn term workshops to north London primary and secondary schools with backing of the school choirs and of Miss Judy Jakes.

Schools interested in using the workshops should contact Miss Jakes at the School of St David and St Katharine, Hillfield Avenue, Hornsey, London N8 7DT.

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