School World

A Choir in Every Classroom

un coro in ogni classe

When M° Enrico Miaroma, head of the Youth and Children’s Voices section of this magazine, proposed me to write for this column, I immediately thought of an idea I often think about (I know it’s utopian, but  like it too much): ‘Every Class is a Choir!’ That is…every class could become a Choir. There are the students, the classrooms as a rehearsal room, and so many Choirmasters who are passionate about their subject that they could go into the schools and…and instead nothing or almost nothing.

There are schools in which there is no singing, no playing of instruments and no study of the history of music, such as high schools, unless we are talking specifically about the Liceo Musicale, intended for a few, or the Liceo delle Scienze Umane where music becomes optional in the three years. Yet there are so many benefits of singing in a choir that every time I say to myself, ‘What a waste of opportunity to enrich the youngsters, the children or the little ones.’ I’m not talking about organizing an occasional choir, for example for Christmas or for other events where maybe the whole school gathers to sing a few songs; I’m talking about teaching choral discipline in a structured way and for all classes. The voice is the first instrument that we all have at our disposal and learning to use it correctly, in breathing and emission, does not seem to me a small thing. Everyone can participate in the choral moment as there are no pre-requisites required for example to study an instrument.

And how many possibilities of learning this discipline offers, choir directors know well: reading music, knowing different genres, styles and musical epochs with consequent repercussions and connections with other disciplines. Music is intertwined with literature, painting, theater, history, philosophy.  For example, how can one exhaustively treat the Romantic movement without considering the music that was its ideal and sentimental engine? How can one talk about Nietzsche without knowing Wagner? And how can one contextualize an eighteenth-century Venetian painting or a poem by Metastasio without references to Baroque melodrama? And then, but not as a last consideration, singing in a choir makes us feel emotions; collaborating together for a final result equal for all has a wide-ranging educational value and contributes to the development of the whole person. Singing in a choir means socializing, being together, and also ‘relieving’ oneself from the uncomfortable moments that children and adolescents may experience; it facilitates bonds and relationships with classmates, and is an opportunity that not all disciplines favor. We choir conductors also enjoy being with children and young people, and teaching them repays us humanly, not just musically.

In the school where I teach, the choir has often played a fundamental role in keeping students in the music school even after they have stopped playing the instrument they have been studying for years. The passion of ‘singing together’ , which in some cases started in kindergarten, has made them continue to make music as choristers.

I often lead choir projects in the compulsory school, even on a yearly basis, so I have the opportunity to perform quite substantial activities within the classes. Capturing the attention of the students is my first goal and creating in them a curiosity about the choir is the next step. Through vocal activities they experiment and discover their own voice and, little by little, learn to modulate it with more precision. Simple pieces are proposed and memorized with a suitable vocal extension also through the use of scores and movements – gestures-sound and non-sound and preparatory exercises also for the use of small rhythmic-melodic instruments – that accompany the music and sometimes describe it. There is also no lack of basic musical terms typical of the language of music. Other activities, especially in the form of games, concern perception. Listening education is a useful skill for all subjects!

Leonardo Yes! Beethoven No! This was the title of a multimedia event that took place in Trento a few years ago, conceived and organized by Francesco Pisanu, an eclectic musician from Trentino, who proposed to the scholastic institutions of the territory to seriously consider the idea of introducing music in high schools. The show, which included a string quartet, jazz group, vocalist, vocal quintet, and children’s choir, which I directed, the two characters, Leonardo Da Vinci and Ludvig Van Beethoven, wondered why either was excluded from our school system.

The history of art yes, the history of music no! Unfortunately, the exclusion of music has distant roots, in fact it was April 24, 1865 when Francesco De Sanctis, who was minister in 1861, advised his successor, Giuseppe Natoli, not to give importance to superfluous subjects, such as music…  Currently, only the secondary school has the privilege of having two hours of music per week in the school curriculum, in elementary school there is no music teacher but music is a subject, intertwined with foreign language, at least in Trentino, while in kindergarten music is left to the goodwill of the teachers. But how important it would be to have, since early childhood, a well-structured and competently proposed approach to music.

And it is true that our country is considered the country of ‘bel canto’; it is since the sixteenth century that Italian musicians go to play and teach music beyond national borders, moreover, our country has given birth to great musicians. Words pertaining to music in many of the world’s languages are in Italian; some indicate musical instruments such as the cello and piano, others indicate genres of music or song such as aria, fantasia, capriccio, fuga, others indicate musical tempos such as adagio, allegro, presto. The words indicating the types of voices in their extension are Italian: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenore, baritono and basso and finally Guido d’Arezzo in 1000, from the ‘Hymn of St. John’, extrapolated our musical scale. What is happening in other European countries or in the world regarding music in schools? From what I hear and read it seems that they are better off than us. And in conclusion a question, ‘Is there a reason why Every Class shouldn’t become a Choir?’

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