Scared of science?
There are people who do not like science probing into the mystical art of the singer or choir director. Understandable, but not something I agree with. I had yet another good example at the weekend of the value of objectivity. The fear is that technology such as the voice change app we have under development will mean even fewer boys singing treble. My experience, so far, has been the opposite. Objective measurement shows that the voice has not much changed, whilst wishful (or fearful) thinking might imagine it has. I checked a boy a couple of days ago. “Ooh, he’s grown a lot, “ said his mum. “You ought to check him on your computer”. Well I did. He had increased in height and weight by the same steady amount he has been increasing all year, and very little change to the voice. Still capable of a good treble!
I’m almost willing to bet now that, give me any random choir to check, and I will find more boys wrongly moved away from treble too early than boys kept on treble too long. It’s partly the social pressures of the age, but also perhaps echoes and reverberations of the early puberty scare. Yes, puberty is slightly earlier, but NOT as much earlier by any means as the newspapers like to imagine.
This actually has quite a lot to do with, as Father Ted might have said “the whole head voice thing” that I blogged about last month. The inability of a boy to use his “head voice” (upper register is the term I very much prefer) is yet another source of the erroneous belief that voices are changing much earlier than in the past. When you measure them – they aren’t! (Well, they are a bit, but not enough to destroy choirs as we know them). I had another boy brought to me very recently, age twelve. “I’m not sure where to place him” was the conductor’s concern. Excellent to have that concern, but when tested with the app – the boy was a “light blue shirt” (unchanged). When tested with the piano, he was unable to pitch notes in his upper register. This is an ear problem, not a voice problem!
The responses to the discussion I started on the Linked In Choir group have continued to trickle in and, perhaps as a result of my admonishing the Brits, two at last from the UK! Both agree that the problem is lack of training for those teachers who have to take choirs. Both also agree that it’s not “classical” v “pop”.
“The musical repertoire, even though we are multi-faith … no attempt is made to dumb it down. Interestingly my vocal peripatetic teachers encourage girls to sing pop, especially those songs where pop singers use their head voice.”
“I have certainly heard the problem you identify, Martin, and I think it is more a UK problem … I did see a lovely suggestion from an American conductor for helping secondary school age girls access their head voices to give them a playlist of pop singers who make good use of theirs e.g. Annie Lennox, Sarah McLaughlin.”
Agree totally, and my thanks to those correspondents. And it’s not just a boy problem. Far from it!
To continue, the theme, sadly, plus ca change..
“A big part of the problem is that the degree of vocal/choral expertise amongst music teachers varies from school to school…”
Too right it does! Today, we had Michael Gove on the TV telling us that he wants all UK publicly funded schools to be like the prep school he went to (sorry, like the independent sector, but he did say “do prep”…he really did!!) In Gove Utopia all schools will have ten-hour days and this will allow time for…wait for it… “orchestra practice”! Come on Mr Gove, one more really hard push and we might even have a “choir practice”. If you have read my recent paper in the British Journal of Music Education, you will realize that this is actually not something to joke about at all. And if you buy my new book (Singing in the Lower Secondary School) when it comes out, you will see quite a lot about this business of orchestra and choir being “extra-curricular”. A strange prep school, was Mr Gove’s, where there were no academic music classes attended by all children. Or maybe his memory is a trifle out?
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