In a recent article for the Daily Telegraph, Jonathan Leigh, The Master at Marlborough College, said it was a ‘desperate shame’ that the very deep British tradition of joining a school choir was in decline. This was after recent evidence showed a decline in singing at primary schools because teachers are focussing their energy towards success in academic league tables. As singing in a choir isn’t a measurable part of the school curriculum, it seems it is being neglected.
Jonathan goes on to say that Singing is a ‘national heritage, an art form of undefinable benefit, good for respiration and both physical and mental alertness [as well as] a gradual builder of self-assurance’.
Ironically, wind the clock back around 20 years, and you find Jonathan Leigh as Second Master at Cranleigh School where I was a pupil and sang in the School Choir. I always remember him being very supportive of the Chapel Music and extremely positive about my organ playing for school services, even if my performance at History A-Level was somewhat lacking.
I think Mr Leigh makes an extremely valid point, although perhaps the newspaper headline which suggests ‘School choir should be as important as league tables’ is a tad optimistic. I would be the first to champion the place of music as an important academic subject although it will never rank alongside English & Maths, which is entirely reasonable. I do believe singing in the choir should be given more priority in schools today. Whilst it will never be a ‘measurable’ part of the curriculum it does have lots of benefits which can be used in life after school. One of the key things you can get from being in a choir is the value of working together as part of a team.
I am, however, curious about the article’s suggestion of a decline in singing at Primary Schools. I spend a lot of time travelling around the country recording CDs at Primary Schools with my company 4 Part Music. Admittedly I have only recorded in a relatively small number of schools, but those I have visited have a very strong culture of singing. Moreover, it’s not just a school choir we record but there will be songs from each year group plus one or two full school songs.
This small cross section of Primary Schools suggests that, certainly in some areas, singing still plays a very important part in Schools. Indeed, my 2 year old daughter, who is currently at Nursery, attends a ‘choir’ session every Wednesday and loves singing!
For my part I hope that schools will continue to develop a choral tradition and encourage pupils to sing in choirs. The popularity of choirs amongst people who have left school is higher now than it has ever been before. It would be a shame for that to go into decline.