Sounds of celebration;TES Campaign;Music for the Millennium;Anthem for the millennium

5th March 1999 at 00:00
The TES Anthem for the Millennium has been specially commissioned to be sung by young people all over Britain.

Here you will find the score, some helpful teaching suggestions, and interviews with composer Debbie Wiseman, who developed 'There's Only One of You' from an orchestral piece originally commissioned by BT, and with Don Black, who wrote the lyrics.

In its simplest form it can be tackled by a primary class; older students can add the optional lyrics and, by next term, will be able to learn a more sophisticated four-part arrangement. But, most of all, we hope that you and your school will enjoy singing this celebratory piece. First, Gerald Haigh, ex-primary head and experienced choir master, provides good reasons for exercising those vocal chords.

Never underestimate the importance of the singing voice. More than just a way of making music, it actually governs the way we listen to an orchestra or band. We constantly bring the feeling of singing to the instrumental sounds. So we hear high violin or trumpet notes as more difficult, more emotionally intense - more dangerous even - than lower ones, because that is how they would be if we were singing them. This is a key factor in the emotional appeal of all music, and the best reason why children in school should be taught to sing, accurately and reflectively.

There are other well-known reasons. Singing helps children learn to read. Adding a tune helps the emerging reader along a line of words. And, of course, the desire to read and sing a song can motivate a reluctant reader.

Most importantly, singing is just an excellent thing to do for its own sake. A good sing, in the company of others, is uniquely liberating and uplifting. It brings a class together in co-operation and enjoyment as nothing else can. It also provides that precious classroom commodity - an opportunity for less academic, more timid, or more disturbed children to work on level terms with their peers, for the ability to sing is no respecter of academic or social prowess.

You might argue that some are more fortunate than others when the larynxes are being distributed, but really, preference for one sort of voice over another is a cultural thing. We can all sing, and many adults who think they cannot have been shamefully brainwashed by hidebound music teachers.

There is no reason at all, therefore, why every classroom and school hall should not be filled with the sound of children's voices, singing clearly and in tune. The biggest obstacle to this lies not so much in levels of funding, or curriculum time, or expertise - though all play their part - but in the fact that many teachers just lack the confidence to tackle singing. To teach a song to a class, you have to have the nerve to sing it to them - first all the way through, and then bit by bit, so they can learn it and repeat it.

That first moment, when you look at the eager faces, then draw breath to sing to them, is quite a challenging one, even to an experienced teacher - a particular sort of public performance, more demanding and nerve-racking than most.

However, once tackled, it seems so much easier the next time. And it really is rewarding, carrying benefits that extend far beyond the music lesson itself. Children thrive on any clear routine that brings quick success, and the business of learning a song is an excellent example. Every repetition provides easily perceived improvement - the positive feedback is built in. Some children are quicker to learn than others, of course - there they are, jumping with eagerness for the next section, eyes alive with confidence.

Others need to spend a little more time listening. It is in the nature of the exercise, though, that nobody is seriously left behind. This is real whole-class teaching, with almost everyone being pushed at the speed of the quickest. Multiple bonds are forged and reinforced - teacher to child, child to child - which pay off right across the curriculum.

Best of all, this is something that the non-specialist classroom teacher can do. In the primary sector, particularly, many classroom teachers are finding excellent ways of bringing music into the day-to-day work, so that it becomes available to all children of all abilities.

Much of this work goes unrecognised because national events tend to emphasise excellent performance by specialised choirs and bands. Classic FM's Music Teacher of the Year award, with an emphasis on day-to-day music teaching, will provide welcome encouragement.

To improve singing in school:

* Be aware that this is not an extra or a luxury. Get the policy right and the benefits will feed into every area of school life.

* Do some singing every day. However, four daily 10-minute choir rehearsals a week at break are better than one long one.

* The singing in assembly will naturally improve, but work on it separately for a few minutes twice a week. Get the teachers joining in. What must children think when teachers sit poker-faced during hymn-singing?

* Try to involve every teacher in teaching songs, so it is not seen by the children as something that only a few teachers can do. Confidence can be improved by a couple of staff training sessions.

* Run a school choir. Build it up as something to which children will aspire. For a primary choir, do not have auditions.

* Do not worry if you have no piano player. Many songbooks come with accompaniment tapes or CDs these days. The principle is - learn the song, then teach it to the children by singing it to them. At a pinch, accompaniment can come later.

* Schoolsong 2000 is a new festival for school choirs. Application form: 0181 870 9624.

* The British Federation of Young Choirs provides publications, courses, singing days and advice for teachers. BYFC, Devonshire House, Devonshire Square, Loughborough LE11 3DW. Tel: 01509 211664.

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