I can hear the first class of the day approaching. It is a Year 3 class. Now they are lined up outside the Music Room. A boy at the front of the line is singing Kye Kye Kule to me, it’s a call and response song that we sing in the weekly Singing Assembly. Once the children are sat down I pick up a copy of the class register. After singing ‘Hello Everyone’ to the whole class a couple of times I choose a name and sing to that individual child.
This is to help me learn names but also to encourage some simple solo singing.
I press play on a backing track to the song ‘Food, Glorious Food’ from Oliver Twist and the children join in after the short introduction. We began work on this song three weeks ago and now they nearly all sing along and know the words of the first verse and chorus. I’ve chosen the song because Year 3 are studying this book in Literacy. When I introduced the song they had not begun reading the book and did not know about it. We watched footage of the song from the 1968 film. At the time one boy found it pretty disturbing and chose to cover his eyes. It is a creepy song at the start with its ascending semitones and ominous feel.
There are music teachers who would not sing a song like this with children aged 7/8 for another reason: it has some tricky turns in the melody and some awkward intervals to negotiate. Looking at the class only a few are truly singing the entire song accurately. Many more are singing a close approximation and, for some, the combination of words in quick succession, some of them peculiar, and rapidly moving melody is just too much. However, making a connection with other areas of the curriculum in this way has a lot to be said for it. Imagine the excitement when the Oliver Twist book was produced by the teacher in a Literacy lesson and the class are already familiar with ‘gruel’ and the starving boys and the workhouse and so on. This school is very good at such a genuinely cross-curricular approach. It takes guts and it takes imagination. We push on and begin to learn the words of the second chorus.
The class stand and sing Lucy Locket (a three note song) and step/rock to the beat. Next we clap the rhythm. The class speed up and quite a few simply clap rapidly instead of clapping the rhythm accurately. We work at this and after a few minutes it is much more controlled. Next we walk the rhythm. This is always fun because it involves pretty much jogging on the spot. A few are out of breath after this! I ask them to sing the song and show the pitch on their head/shoulders/hips. I’m glad I made this their Class Challenge to have a go at during the week; they have obviously been practising. Almost the whole class are very good at it. I have drawn a simple ‘body and head’ on the board with arrows pointing to head/shoulders/hips. We notice that the head and shoulders are close together and the hips are further away from the shoulders. I relate this to a picture of the A/G/E bars on a xylophone and demonstrate how to play this song. Some volunteers come out to have a go. Two of the four volunteers are able to play the whole song accurately.
We move into a circle and play a few rounds of the Star Light, Star Bright game. It’s a simple pentatonic song and the game includes a child tapping the beat on people’s hands while walking around the inside of the circle. At the end of the song one child sings a solo response to the sung question ‘What do you wish for?’ I learned this song from the Jolly Music series of books. It’s handy because each of the four phrases has a different, simple, rhythm. It will be useful when we begin to read, clap and recognise simple quaver/crotchet rhythms. I am specifically using the song as a teaching tool; this is central to the Kodály approach. With 16 hearts drawn on the board – to visually represent the beat – a few volunteers sing the song and tap the beat onto these hearts. Next week we will tap the rhythm and after that we will begin to visually represent the rhythm too.
We finish by singing a song called Harvest Rock ‘n’ Roll* in preparation for the Harvest Assembly next Friday. It feels good to be in a school that still has a Harvest Festival; children and staff bring in food for a local charity to distribute. It’s mainly supermarket tins rather than gruel.
*This song is available on the Sing Up website