Judging by the number of enquiries I receive on it, the question of repertoire is a major source of anxiety for many teachers.
Underlying this anxiety is probably the question of “cool”. The belief that only current chart music will be “cool” is responsible for a lot of the under-expectation that goes on in schools as well as some poor repertoire choices that do not fit young adolescent voices and teach little, if anything, about vital topics such as sight reading notation.
The first place most pupils encounter the teacher’s repertoire choice is in the singing class. My position on this is set out on page 126.
The research for the book discovered that the most successful teachers often created their own arrangements. There is a lot in the book about how to do that. “Ownership” of the song is an important ingredient but here is an audio clip that demonstrates what will happen if you ignore the guidance on adolescent voices. The range of the song is far too great and the boys force their modal voices painfully high. There is no contest with a trained chorister of the same age!
The second clip, of the same boys, is a much better choice. The range is a sixth and the tessitura is spot on for their (mostly Y8) voices.
In the last clip, the song has the range of an octave. This time, the boys access the top note by, almost as one, flipping into falsetto. They didn’t of course, realize they were doing it. It just came naturally. It’s not something to be recommended, but interesting nonetheless!
Since the book was published OUP, with great foresight, commissioned the Emerging Voices series. This is a collection of twelve pieces written by (mostly!) English composers as a (much overdue) UK equivalent to the well-established Cambiata Press. The pieces match exactly Chapter 10 of the book. Here are the instructions I issued when commissioning work from the composers. If you follow these instructions, you too could be creating music like this.
But read what composer Oli Tarney says about “cool”
they don’t really want to be singing about the things that they find cool, if I set them to music they would almost certainly not be cool. Actually the best way to deal with this is not to deal with something cool, er, but to deal with it as something important.
Another very important development since the book was written has been the (long overdue) move into secondary education by Sing Up. There is quite a lot in the book lamenting the failure of Sing Up (or at least its funders) to provide much needed continuity into secondary. I’m delighted that’s been put right and pleased to have been able to carry on advising Sing Up. There’s a new piece of mine based on real life case studies of young people I have studied through voice change in the January-April 2017 issue of Sing Up magazine.
So, provided you don’t ignore what it says on this page, you have another extensive source of KS3 repertoire if you subscribe to Sing Up.
Fitting song to voice
This film was made in the early days of CNW, under its first conductor, James Lewis. The principles haven’t changed much, but the voices have. Assume any trebles are now baritones!
A session of “fitting the song to the voice” that demonstrates what happens if you choose a key that is slightly too high. Posture falls apart and becomes “hurtful” because the top of the range is too near the break into falsetto. Watch the obvious tension! Too low, though, and the singer is into larynx depression and croaking. At either end of the register there is a danger of compression -high notes becoming flat, low notes become sharp. This singer is also too old to start learning to vocalise downwards from the CT dominant part of his range.