Sing it loud, sing it proud
In a blog marking National Choral Day, director of music at Burgess Hill Girls David Black talks about the benefits of singing in a choir - from improving mood to academic performance - and how pupils of all ages are encouraged to get involved.
Why do we try to ensure choral singing touches every student’s life? Because there are so many benefits to be had from choral singing. It gives girls joy and a greater feeling of togetherness, it allows them to express themselves freely and the physical act of singing itself is a great stress reliever, allowing girls to expel at volume any troubles or anxieties they may have. It can also bring a deep sense of achievement, both intrinsically (when they learn and complete a song to their satisfaction), but also extrinsically (when they perform in front of live audiences, grateful to hear their beautiful voices and melodies). We are also well aware of the knock-on benefits that choral singing can have on girls’ wider development, in and out of the classroom. Research suggests students do better academically because they are happier, and choral singing certainly makes them happy!
An important part of the curriculum
Choral singing is an important part of our curriculum, from our nursery to senior school and beyond. Action songs, where pupils act out elements of the song, are always popular and not just among the younger years. We also regularly teach partner songs where choirs learn to sing two, or more often three, songs together that have the same chord progressions. For example, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “When the Saints” and “I Want to Sing Sing Sing” all work well together. Students always enjoy learning and performing partner songs and they can be a lot of fun; in fact, it makes me smile just writing about it.
Singing at a single-sex school
Having taught in both co-ed and single-sex schools I can tell you there is something special about choral singing in girls’ schools, well at least there is specifically at Burgess Hill Girls which is an accepting and inclusive school where students can learn and take part in any activity without judgement or boundaries.
Taking singing to a professional level
To help students take their choral singing to the next level, we regularly work with visiting professionals like opera singer Joanna Songhi, who recently ran a number of choral workshops and then performed with the students in a concert for an audience of over 200. We are also fortunate to have a very experienced specialist choral teacher, Jane Findlay, who provides individual choral lessons for over 50 students. Jane was an operatic soloist who has performed works from Baroque to Bertwistle at Glyndebourne, The Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, and many other opera houses across Europe. She has also worked in oratorio and has even appeared with Victoria Wood and French and Saunders! I can honestly say she is the best choral specialist I have ever worked with.
I am proud to say we have over 160 students involved in six different choirs across the school. In the senior and sixth form we have a Year 7 and 8 choir, a Year 9 and above choir and a competition choir, all meeting to rehearse at least once a week. Girls can audition to join the chamber choir, which is a more specialist choir, learning and performing more complex choral pieces. We also have three choirs in the prep school.
In addition to frequent rehearsals, all the different choirs regularly perform in our own concert venue as well as in and around our local town of Burgess Hill, at nursing homes, churches, and arts festivals. This year on National Choral Day, most of our students will be singing together at a special carol service at nearby St Andrews Church.
The choirs also regularly take part in competitions and have a rich history of success. This year our Year 7 and 8 choir made it to the final of the Girls’ Schools Association’s (GSA) Choir of the Year competition and our prep school choir made it to the final of the Barnado’s National Choral Competition.
Careers and looking to the future
We are delighted to say that many of our students go on to develop professional careers as singers and performers. Natalie Langston is an established West End and musical theatre performer with recent lead roles in Evita and Mamma Mia. Lily Williams is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who was signed this year by legendary US record label, Atlantic Records. It is our hope that more pupils will continue to take their love of singing and choral music with them after leaving school.