Modern tunes 'stop young voices scaling the heights'

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The Independent Culture

Primary school pupils can no longer hit the high notes because the art of singing is declining, the leader of Britain's choir schools said yesterday.

Primary school pupils can no longer hit the high notes because the art of singing is declining, the leader of Britain's choir schools said yesterday.

The modern tunes many children are taught - as with pop songs - involve only a narrow voice range, Richard White, chairman of the Choir Schools Association and head of Polwhele House School in Truro, Cornwall, suggested.

He told the association's conference in Canterbury, Kent, attended by heads from the 44 choir schools: "Singing used to be a strength in primary education but is fast becoming something of a rarity, resulting in many children... being denied the opportunity of discovering that they have musical talent."

He said that even children who auditioned for choirs from primary schools where singing was a regular feature often had to be retrained. Many had "chest voices" that take them "beyond the upper limits that should be used with this part of the voice. Sadly, many have not discovered the head voice so vital for the top and most glorious parts of a child's registers," he said. "Maybe songs for children, like tunes in new hymn books, are being transposed down a few keys to avoid any confrontation with the odd D or E, or maybe the primary school singing repertoire, where it exists, just as the pop repertoire, tends to restrict itself to the narrow range of the chest voice." Traditional tunes were no longer sung, he said.

Mr White said he was in no way criticising colleagues in maintained primary schools. Many would like to provide more singing but could not find the teachers or the time to do so.

He said recruitment of choristers gave cause for concern. Over the past three years, 11 choir schools reported a decrease in applications, eight an increase and 22 no change.

He urged the Government to safeguard singing in primary schools. While he welcomed the allocation of £30m of lottery money for the development of music and singing, he feared it might only benefit those who were already involved in music.

Richard Crozier, director of professional development at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, said: "There is a tendency for schools to sing songs which children find very appealing. There is a good argument for doing that, but they have a more limited range of notes. Teachers do not receive enough training in music teaching and are not comfortable in leading singing."

* Small rural schools should be encouraged to pool resources and form "mini-federations" to survive, council leaders said yesterday.

A report by the Local Government Association suggested they should use computer technology to share specialist teaching and open school buildings to village communities at evenings and weekends.

It said village schools had to be maintained to prevent a "spiral of decline" in the countryside. There are 2,700 primary schools in England with fewer than 100 pupils; 700 have fewer than 50 pupils. In the 15 years from 1983, 450 small rural schools were closed.

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