As well as travelling all over the UK to record in schools, I also run 3 choirs in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. These are Cirencester Male Voice Choir, The BlueBelles (Female Acapella Group) and Blue Notes (Female Jazz Group). Like most choirs, all these groups enjoy rehearsing together and then performing at local events and concerts.
The internet is full of articles and blog posts which will inform you how being in a choir is good for your health. To be fair from my perspective as a choir leader, running a rehearsal is also fairly good for your health. It seems, according to the stats on my Apple Watch, that my Male Voice Choir requires the most effort! Conducting, singing and moving from part to part during the rehearsal turns out to be quite the workout! Singing requires the use of lots of different muscles as well as breath control, not to mention being on your feet for quite a lot of the 2 hour rehearsal.
Singing in Schools
Last night, before the choir rehearsal in Cirencester, I was having a conversation with our accompanist about the current state of music in schools. We concluded that increasingly in secondary schools there is little priority given to music either in the classroom or as an extra curricular activity. Indeed, even some private schools are starting to dismiss music as a relatively unimportant subject and not give it the funding or time it deserves.
Based on the work we do at Recordings 4 Schools, it would appear there is still lots of music and singing going on in Primary Schools. This is clearly evidenced by the number of CDs and digital albums we are recording year on year with no sign of this decreasing. In fact currently we are busier than ever before. However, when it comes to music in secondary schools the picture is quite different.
As a recording company we very rarely work in secondary schools. In part this is probably due to the increased pressures on the curriculum and time available. After all it would be somewhat more complicated to bring the whole school to a halt for a day to spend the time recording. However, we have often been asked to record school choirs, particularly at Prep Schools and some independent schools. But rarely in a state funded school or Academy. Now I am very well aware of the danger of generalisation and I’m quite sure there are plenty of exceptions. Back in 2011 I was invited to take part in a school choir trip to Paris – their accompanist was unable to make it at the last minute and before I knew it I was on a coach with 34 school children from a state funded secondary school in Salisbury heading across the English Channel.
Funding for Music
From my limited perspective of music in education today, it seems that only the top independent schools are still funding music departments properly. As someone running their own business, I of course understand the need for schools, and local authorities to balance the books. Fee paying schools are ultimately accountable to their stakeholders and indeed parents for how they spend the money which is being invested. Taking the perspective of an accountant, the proportion of money invested in different departments needs to be based around the number of pupils taking that subject versus the requirements of the national curriculum.
Hundreds of years ago, when I was at school I remember studying music A level in a class of 5. Despite this the school had multiple full time music staff & around 30 visiting music teachers covering all instruments known to man. We also had a school orchestra, various wind bands and a number of choirs which performed regularly at school concerts as well as embarking on tours all over Europe.
Music is never going to be a core subject like English and Maths. Consequently it is always going to be harder to justify the funding in schools. Coupled with this, music is potentially quite an expensive subject to maintain. However, on the flip side, music is everywhere and a part of everyday life for millions of people, Part of the issue in my mind is that music is undervalued, particularly given how much music there is in every day life.
I think it would be almost impossible to go through your day without some form of music being part of it. Even if you don’t actively listen to music, you cannot have the television on even briefly without some music playing – even if, like me, you only ever watch the BBC News channel! Ultimately I cannot fix the issue with music in schools but, like many others around the country I can give people the opportunity to enjoy singing together. Whether by running a choir people can join or continuing to offer recording services to encourage music in primary schools, I like to think these small things are helping the next generation be part of live music making.
Jules Addison is a Sound Engineer at Recordings 4 Schools. If you would like to find out more about recording a CD or digital album in your school then please give us a call on 01225 302143 or click here to email us