Review in the British Journal of Music Education

Singing Matters

Andrew Peggie British Journal of Music Education October 1998


 Hooray for Patrick Allen. Here is a book which  not only relocates singing at the centre of a music curriculum, but contains material to positively inspire the most reluctant teacher to get started. Allen is at pains to emphasise the physicality of singing-and the need for 100 per cent focus and concentration from pupils. He not only espouses the benefits of carefully selected warm-ups for both mental and physical limbering, but also supplies as comprehensive a list of activities as you will be likely to find in print. His suggestions are clearly rooted in practical experience and peppered with useful caveats to head off potential misunderstandings or opportunities for pupil subversion. The same solid practicality infuses each of the thirty singing projects.

Singing Matters scores hands down when it comes to creating an achievable route into singing at key stage 3 in the first place. This is not only about what to do, but how to do it successfully with reluctant adolescents.

Part singing is a case in point. It is considered as a normal expectation for singing work at key stage 3, and incorporated into virtually every project. Allen suggests a number of routes into part singing, from single note ostinato lines, through parallel harmonies(he is no respecter of the rules of classical harmony where they conflict with generating effective choral experiences), improvised descant lines, building up a chord sequence riff, improvising imitative percussion rhythm backing, to learn rounds and chants. All this reflects the reality of choral singing traditions from other cultures which are only now beginning to affect the previously rather stiff UK approach. The repertoire is similarly wide-ranging, reaching across at least three continents and encompassing the medieval hymn to S. Magnus as well as songs by Schubert and Noel Gallagher.

Allen is at pains to stress the benefits of teaching songs by rote, however, and nothing in the pack actually needs reference to the printed page for learning purposes.

The singing projects make up part 3 of the project. Part 1 sets out both a rationale and methodology of class singing at Key stage 3. He deals effectively with many of the stumbling blocks, including the breaking voice, tessitura, the psychology of group singing, accompanying, harmonising (by ear) and classroom organisation.

Stress is laid on the regularity of singing – it should be a part of a weekly activity, not an end of term wind down. Part 2 contains a selection of preparatory games, warm ups and vocal backing riffs to encourage good vocal habits, part singing and group identity. Part 4 contains a selection of rounds, chants and social songs, less tightly bound by project work

This is not a systematic training manual. The teacher is at liberty to choose projects pretty well at random. Most could be tackled from any one of several different starting levels. But perhaps ore important, Singing Matters is a book which should inspire teachers to get their classes singing at whatever level.