Where are all the songs of youth?

12th May 2000 at 01:00
Choir schools are urged to link up with primaries. Clare Dean reports.

THE sound of children singing is fast becoming a rarity in primary schools with teachers forced to abandon music to concentrate on literacy and numeracy.

Richard White, chairman of the Choir Schools' Association, fears many children, as well as their teachers and parents, are being denied the opportunity of discovering they have a musical talent.

And this week he urged the 44 schools affliated to his association to reach out to primary schools, offering programmes of music to rekindle enthusiasm.

"The emphasis on literacy, numeracy and the importance attached to testing are welcome innovations in primary education," he told the CSA meeting in Canterbury.

"But has the process of improving these areas been done at the expense of those less tangible, but no less important, areas responsible for nurturing and developing the young spirit?"

Choir schools attached to cathedrals, churches or college chapels educate some 15,000 pupils, including 1,000 choristers. Some cater for children aged seven to 13, others are junior schools with senior schools to 18.

Most are Church of England but the Roman Catholic, Scottish and Welsh churches are also represented. Most members of the CSA are fee-paying schools, but nine out of 10 choristers qualify for financial help.

Mr White, head of Polwhele House School in Truro, said that music in primary schols, where time could be found for it, concentrated on percussion work.

"Singing, quite apart from the important advantages it offers for teamwork, is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way of discovering and developing musical talent in the early years, but rarely seems to get much of a look in these days."

However, where primary schools do some regular singing, he said that many pupils would often be straining their voices beyond their upper limits.

Mr White's comments come against a backdrop of dwindling interest in choristerships. Just eight CSA choirs have experienced an increase in applications over the past three years.

He told the meeting: "We should be seriously exploring ways of raising our profile and increasing public awareness."

Some choir schools already visit local primaries. Others, like St Edmund's school, Canterbury, run a regular musical programme on Saturdays for children between the aged from four to 10.

St Edmund's also runs an outreach programme on Fridays when music staff from the school go off to various primaries to make music.

Mr White has now suggested that choir schools could miss Evensong once a term so that groups of choristers could visit primary schools.

"Not only would such a programme help to kindle enthusiasm in some of the children but it would also raise our profiles and demonstrate a genuine desire to contribute to a wider community," he said.

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