When young voices join together in song

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I RUSHED home on Monday to take my eldest daughter to the school's first Easter concert at a local church. She had volunteered for the junior choir. It was a duty, rather than a pleasure: I had the slenderest of expectations.

To my consternation, she had been frantically trying to learn the words of the 'Hallelujah Chorus' at breakfast time. 'King of Kings' . . . bite of toast . . . 'Lord of Lords' . . . sip of milk . . . 'And he will reign for ever and e-e-ever'. She said that if only one person went up, instead of down, the whole choir crashed and sounded wrong. She knew, because she had done just that in the last rehearsal.

While Christmas carol concerts and services are a sure-fire hit, with tunes familiar to most of us, and the focus on something as sweet and appealing as a baby, solemn Easter music contemplating the agony of Christ and the cross, laced with triumphalist snatches from the Messiah are much less accessible to a secular, irreligious ear. Not my sort of thing at all, in fact, though I know that for hundreds of thousands of people Easter is not complete without such music.

But, since I am also an obedient parent, thrilled to see my child voluntarily doing something that is not a Nintendo game, I held my peace and hoped for the best. And after a day spent dutifully listening to the continuous news output of Radio 5 Live, I was feeling more than a little ground down.

How many times can you listen to the news of a random stabbing of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in what should be the sanctuary of a classroom? What parent does not wander (just as the masked man wielding a knife did) into schools, outside delivery and collection times, with forgotten lunchboxes, homework, even music for rehearsals? We know they can't be fortified, and it is impossible to protect children from the random, occasional madnesses of life.

With these uneasy thoughts, I settled into my pew, alongside other mothers. My expectations were low. I was therefore quite unprepared for one of the most uplifting evenings I have ever experienced. I have always thought that, should I need detoxifying from daily urban life, I would check into a health farm and sip camomile tea between reflexology sessions, but an amateur choral concert seemed to fulfil just that role, in 90 minutes flat. The programme, which included 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' and 'For the Beauty of the Earth', as well as a more serious attempt at Faure's Requiem and snatches from the Messiah, was extraordinarily cheering.

I'm not sure if it was a spiritually uplifting experience, but it certainly lifted my spirits for the rest of the week. It was also clear that the children taking part glowed with the pleasure of doing something so special. It was not a perfect, awe-inspiring Albert Hall production. There were a few wrong notes and wobbles. But the performance had the very human charm that comes from children and teachers doing their best, with enthusiasm. And, of course, if your child is there singing his or her heart out and it is coming out wonderfully well, then any critical faculties you retain are swamped with pride.

Sitting in the Indian restaurant afterwards, refreshing my daughter with a tandoori chicken, I started to ponder the value of shared activities, and of how varied they might be. In the past few weeks I have started to worry about the consensus growing up around the view that if only we force competitive team games and traditional sports into the educational curriculum, perhaps by making them compulsory, our national character and not just our physiques can be rebuilt.

But surely games are only one small part of education and character building. For those who really enjoy a tough game of rugby, cricket, netball or hockey, they are fine activities. But muscular games are far too narrow a definition of worthwhile communal activity. Surely singing in choirs, an activity that requires no prior knowledge of music or musical instruments, is just as valuable in instilling discipline and a sense of shared aims. School plays, with the organisation, practice and teamwork needed, are equally testing. So is the huge variety of school orchestras that flourish despite the vicious pressure on budgets. Perhaps the secret is that an a la carte approach will always be more pleasurable than something foisted on us for our own good.

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