Were you told at school or at home that you couldn’t sing? This remark was common in schools in what Howard Goodall refers to as the Bad Old Days. Fortunately, thanks to Mr Goodall and his colleagues in their Music Manifesto, the Government was persuaded five years ago to back a National Singing Programme otherwise known as ‘Sing Up’. The aims were to turn every primary school into a singing school by 2011. Out of a total of 20,000 primary schools, 15,000 of them are now involved with Sing Up, using a huge range of music sources including 300 free songs with backing tracks, curriculum materials and sheet music. So far 35,000 teachers have been trained to lead singing and bring the reality into schools and the project organisers hope to double this number.
As Mr Goodall says, singing or playing in a group is one of the most uplifting, rewarding, life-enhancing activities a human being can do. I, myself, was a choir member and soloist at my own primary school in the 1950s and I have returned to group singing over the last 11 years since I moved to Dorset. Some years ago I was sad to note that music was being sidelined as a subject in schools in favour of ‘teaching to the tests’. How I wished there was someone who would make changes and this is where Howard Goodall came in. He is known as the National Ambassador for Singing and he has his eye on secondary schools now for the next stage of the project.
So it was that I found myself, last Thursday, 6th July, privileged to be in the audience enjoying the third night of the four day Portsmouth Schools Music Festival. I was there to support my grandson who was singing with the children from Solent Junior School in Drayton. Little did I know as I travelled by train that afternoon what a feast of music was to be served that evening.
As I have a profoundly deaf sister, I am always interested in how children can be introduced to sign language and I was delighted to see the children signing in BSL for ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and indeed for the other songs they sang that evening. Singers from Court Lane Junior School, Flying Bull Primary School, Gatcombe Park Primary School, and St George’s Beneficial C of E Primary School joined with Solent Junior School singers to produce a wonderful programme which included Keep Holding On, The One and Only, Never Forget and the rousing sound of ‘We Are The Champions’. In my day we were obliged to sing music from what might have been known as ‘classical’ composers which was not always a stimulating experience. How delightful it was to see the children making hand movements and body movements in time with the songs they were singing and all in perfect time thanks to the good teaching they had received. That evening has to be one of my highlights of 2012 and I cannot wait to return next year.
Before the interval the Infant School Choir made up of pupils from four infant schools had entertained us with You Can Do It, My Favourite Things, Reach For The Stars during which we were encouraged to join in, Fabby Dabby Doo and Believe.
The evening had started with Portsmouth Grammar School Brass directed by Graham Brown playing a selection of music including the Olympic Fanfare and Theme and music from The Midsomer Murders.
Early on in the proceedings we were invited to send Tweets to @schoolsmusic which were then filtered to the main screen on the stage appearing on a continuous feed along the bottom of the screen. Not for the first time was I pleased I had a Twitter Account.
This wonderful production of happy singing voices can only come about with the hard work and talent of a dedicated band of music teachers. As a teacher I recognise the importance of a career where you can ‘make a difference’ to people’s lives. I suspect that last Thursday, these teachers provided the children with the opportunity to do something they will remember throughout their lives and their love of music and performance will endure. The evening has also made a difference to those of us in the audience who had feared that their children and grandchildren would not experience such uplifting musical events.
Well done all and I can’t wait for next year.