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Posted: 31 October 2016

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Singing and changing a culture - part 3

Singing and changing a culture - part 3

Liz Bryant Head of Music, at Darrick Wood School in Kent has taken her young choir on three music tours to the continent. This summer they had a fantastic tour to Lake Garda in Italy.

In the third of her blogs, Liz describes how running a compulsory GCSE choir has had an amazing effect on music-making in her school.

“I am now in the second year of running a compulsory GCSE choir. I made a point last year of explaining to year 9 pupils considering GCSE Music that this would be required. I have tried to be relentless in getting them to sing not only in the weekly choir rehearsal but in lessons too.

“When we studied Handel’s “And the glory of the Lord” we spent several lessons just singing it, working through each part in turn and singing along to the recording in whatever register was comfortable. I have a stash of quick rounds and simple part songs that I pull out for moments when they are doing something menial. They will now sing anything and at any time – on several occasions at the start of a lesson I find them singing, sometimes in several parts, whatever happens to be on someone’s mind at the time.

“Now that we have the “Big Choir” with a large number of singers, we have also started a Chamber choir which comprises six girls and six boys, mostly in years 10 and 11, who are able to access harder songs with a greater focus on reading music.

“This term with Year 7 we have also embarked on an Africa project, which will culminate in an afternoon concert given by each half of the year group, to an invited audience of Years 4 and 5 from the Junior school down the road.

“Each class will perform a piece of West African drumming and sing an African song, and then join in a massed performance of “Shosholoza” in (hopefully) three parts. I have drafted in my year 10 class to boost the part singing and demonstrate that boys and girls higher up the school are also singing. So far, year 7 have accepted it without complaint – watch this space!

“I’m now pretty hooked on teaching singing at KS3. This term with Year 8 we are doing a project on cover songs – starting by listening to a original song and a cover of it each lesson, discussing and comparing them briefly before moving quickly on to whole class singing and making a recording each week, which they then evaluate for homework.

“The songs are very simple, starting with a round based on “Dynamite” (with thanks to Musical Futures’ “Find Your Voice” project) and “Drunken Sailor” with layers of riffs, and moving on to “Love is all around” as covered by Wet Wet Wet in the 1990s. I learnt the songs really well myself so that I could just sing straight to them without looking away to check the words, and my improved confidence in my own voice meant I could do this happily and confidently, and without caring (initially) whether they sang back to me or not.

“Gradually, the atmosphere has shifted, and they now come into the room saying “what are we singing today?” with interest, rather than “are we singing today?” with dread. The plan is still that they will record group performances, but this time they will sing along to a backing track, adding chords or instrumental parts as they are able. I will teach them some ukulele or keyboard stuff as we go along, I expect, but to be honest really all I care about is that they sing. Surely they will learn so many valuable things through doing that – song structures, timing, vocal parts, listening to each other..etc.

“For the first time, this term we have finally bitten the bullet with year 9 and launched a Musical Futures-type scheme of work, based on the project they call “In at the deep end”. I’m now wondering whether, if I could somehow infuse every KS3 scheme of work with the same shameless and carefree enjoyment of singing for its own sake, whether I might very possibly get better results at the end of KS3 and (dare I say it) greater numbers opting for Music at GCSE. Again, watch this space!”

If you’d like to contact Liz or discuss a choir tour for your school, please call Senior Account Manager Alahree McDonell on 0208 772 2868. Or click on the links to find out more about our school choir tours and all our school music tour destinations.

Next week: Liz offers some tips on how to get more boys singing.

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