Developing Singing Matters
Reviewed by Liz Dunbar in Music Teacher June 2000
When I first began looking through this publication, I simply saw it as a well presented collection of songs that I might dip into now and again to augment the classroom singing repertoire, but it turns out to be one of those great ‘the more you look, the more you find’ resources that has the rare quality of providing more than just reams of more singing material.
Developing Singing Matters is presented in loose-leaf folder format, clearly divided into four sections Part 1 is an introduction which outlines how you might use the resources provided and also addresses some of those problems that many classroom music teachers face, such as encouraging pupils to participate in extra-curricular singing and motivating boys to sing. Part 2 provides helpful advice and useful techniques for the untrained singer, covering such areas as posture, voice production, vocal registers and breaks, ways of teaching songs, leading rehearsals and amplifying sound using microphones. Part 3 is a five-page collection of effective and enjoyable ideas to get pupils both physically and mentally in the lood for singing. These begin very simply using narrow vocal ranges and simple rhythmic patterns, and progressing step by step to examples which should extend the range and agility of the most able and confident singer. Part 4, the bulk of the resource, is a collection of singing projects reflecting a wide variety of vocal traditions, including art music of the renaissance, folk music, late 20th century popular song, and a wealth of non-western songs. You could just use part 4 for singing for pleasure, but on closer inspection the material has the potential of becoming the basis for whole schemes of work at key stage 3 and a very useful resource for key stage 4 and beyond.
One example is Song of Fire, an arrangement of native American chants with simple pitched and unpitched accompaniments. I like to begin singing with songs that aren’t in English because they allow you to break down one of the barriers that stop children enjoying singing-the meaning of the words. The music itself provides the expressive energy behind the song and without a story line, children concentrate far mor on co-ordinating the note pitches and the real sound for each syllable. Pupils’ reserve is further diminished when you teach it aurally. Song of Fire has six vocal layers, so you can have a field day in key stage 3 performance and composition work, not only singing it as it stands, but also using the rhythms as the basis for clapping games, percussion workshops, call and response singing, rehearsing techniques which control dynamics and tempo, moving on to improvised and then refined chants, composed by the pupils themselves. It is also well worth incorporating the songs you learn to sing in class into the listening and appraisal work, using a recording made by the class of various sections of the song, and talking about how each of the melodic lines move, dictating rhythms in various ways, illustrating ostinato patterns, a variety of textures and the mood created by its driving rhythm. You might also use the score for sight-singing and aural dictation/discrimination at key stage 4 and beyond, as a model for scoring and voicing of part songs at key stage 4. The possibilities are boundless.
The songs are accessible and immediately appealing, so I would recommend it above many other publications for its sense of progression, its additional information on the social or historical context of the song, how to go about teaching the song and for its flexibility across the key stages and for its flexibility across the key stages. Definitely worth the money.