Vocal variations

10th February 1995 at 00:00
CHILDREN'S NEW FESTIVAL SONGS, By Gina Cooke, Pearlmist Limited, PO Box 2590, Tamworth, Shropshire B79 OPS Pounds 5.95. 0 9523795 0 3

SING 'N' LEARN, By Chris and Monica Bolton, Sing 'n' Learn Publications, Asterton Hall Farm, Asterton, Lydbury, North Shropshire SY7 8BH Pounds 9.95. 0 9523992 0 2

SONGS FOR EVERY SEASON, By Mark and Helen Johnson, Out of the Ark Music, 2a High Street,Thames Ditton, Surrey KT7 ORY, Pounds 11.95. 0 9519116 0 0

The primary music market is awash with song collections. Anything new must be musically powerful and meaningful. Inventing, producing, and performing songs is a well-established form of music-making. Songs for special occasions, or particular audiences, works of "art" that have grown out of a commitment between creators and performers, must be applauded as some of the best forms of shared music. But however enthusiastic the initial audiences and performers, that precious material may not translate to other musical situations.

Children's New Festival Songs is a case in point. It is a set of 12 songs for younger pupils, grouped under four headings: Mother, Harvest, Christmas and General. The songs, with very basic, rather uninspiring melodies, are presented with simple piano accompaniments. Eight of the songs are in C major and all but one are in 44 time. The clear Christian orientation of many of the lyrics reflects the original village and Sunday school audiences for whom the songs were written.

Sing 'n' Learn is another collection that has been partly devised and tried with a particular group of pupils. This comprises 40 songs, all linked to a variety of topic areas that primary pupils are likely to encounter under various national curriculum subjects.

Pupils are supposed to learn historic or scientific facts through the enjoyable activity of singing songs. Therein lies the draw-back. Although it is acknowledged in the preface that "teachers can easily select, omit or share verses amongst pupils as they wish" many of the songs are very wordy: "Underground" has nine verses, "War 1940" has seven and many have four or five verses brimming with historical or other kinds of facts (and inevitably words to learn). Teachers may feel this undermines the musical reasons for singing. They will also need to think particularly carefully how to present the material and, more importantly, what pupils might learn musically from these songs.

Melodically the songs are appealing and interesting, though the "jazz, ethnic and national idioms" appear to have no obvious link to the words or any musical significance other than that of varying the style. The piano accompaniments are not immediately straightforward and will require the class teacher to have some pianistic skills. Some simple percussion accompaniments are suggested.

Songs for Every Season can be added to the ever-increasing list of songs for autumn, winter, summer and spring. The 15 songs here cover familiar topics such as conkers, pancakes and Maytime, as well as new titles such as "Turn Back the Clocks" and "Wet Play". The pleasant, often catchy and syncopated melodies at least cover a wide variety of keys and time signatures and reflect a welcome variety of musical styles which claim "to capture the mood and colour of the different seasons in a blend of words and music". The lyrics are appropriate for primary pupils though the piano accompaniments are fairly complex. The lay-out, requiring page turns at awkward moments in the song, can only add to the pianist's difficulties. The collection is available with a cassette of songs plus backing-tracks.

These will certainly give teachers a useful idea of the songs, though they will sound quite different with piano accompaniment and none of the extra percussive colours from the keyboard arrangements. It should also be pointed out that backing-tracks can be deceptive and have their limitations. It is a skill in itself for younger pupils to "keep up with" the unyielding pulsation of a backing-track from a cassette player.

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