Saturday, 28 August 2010

Singing Together

I did it! I put on the stove, and it is not yet September! Actually I needed to dry a mountain of washing, so it was imperative. There is one of those lovely hanging racks above the stove so any washing dries in a trice. I feel autumn quietly sliding into my life!

I don't know if any of you have read books by Miss Read, but she is one of my favourite authors. She wrote over 50 books many of which are semi autobiographical about her life as a primary school Head Teacher in the 1950's to the 70's. Her writing is so easy, mildly ascerbic about the characters who live in the village, and a little Jane Austen-ish in her way of describing the minutiae of life. Having been a teacher in my life, there is a known world with every turn of the page, but as they are set some 40 - 60 years ago there are also the comfortable and warm resonances of my own schooldays. The school dinners, the chalk board, no smart boards in those days!

In one or two of the books she talks about the music classes which the children have. Bearing in mind that even now in Primary school it is very unusual to have any real 'specialist' teachers, and the good old BBC provided many programmes on the 'wireless' to fill in these gaps. The one she describes, and I remember are the BBC 'Singing Together' programmes. They were wonderful, lots of fun songs like 'Kalinka', 'Yellow Bird', 'Pedro Go Go Pescador' and one of my real top songs 'Quinoro's Pearl', an undoubtedly in this day and age, un politically correct English translation of an Indonesian folk song. I loved it, and later when I taught in school in the 70's and 80's my classes begged to sing it every week, and the blue and red Singing Together books still sit at the ready in my music room in 2010, some things are just timeless, if battered and falling apart after so many eons of loved use.

I used them only last year when I was asked to give two days of choral workshops for the Oxfordshire Education Authority, as their 2009 Primary Music Workshop Days. I chose all of the songs bar one from those books, and the children adored them. They had learned them before the workshop with their teachers, then they all came together and over two (utterly exhausting!) days we worked on them and then gave a concert as the final denoument. The teachers tried in vain to get the music but to no avail, so sadly they all had photocopies from my ancient books. The songs were as alive in 2009 as they were in 1964 when the first programme was aired.

I imagine they went out of print in 1972 and probably cost a small mortage to buy on Amazon, but I would not sell them for all the music in the world. 60 songs in total from all over the world, in keys all children can sing and so much fun combined with plenty of story telling and interesting musical styles.

I think I might start a campaign to bring them back into school as a compulsory text book for all 5 - 13 year olds. Class singing when I was 7 gave me my lifelong love for singing, and my entire future career, thanks with all my heart to Miss Varley, our music teacher, small as a wren and twice as energetic!

Try a Miss Read book, start with Village School - you will not be disappointed, now I must find it on my bookshelf and start them all over again !


  1. I do remember some school music and it isn't dead yet... just the other day I was belting out 'She'll be coming round the mountain' with a bunch of kindy kids (4 and 5 year olds).

    Our kindy and school has music every day - they even dance their times tables! Our recorder group is getting quite proficient right from the year 1 just a few notes to the senior year 6 who are tackling improvisation on various tunes. The singing is pretty good too.

    I'm sad they have to then go to a normal high school but hopeful that the youngest will be able to set up their own senior high school - it is planned but too late for my kids.

    The silver lining is that our local high school has an excellent music program and does well by their students.

    viv in nz

  2. I wanted to note a wonderful website at It's a marketplace for used bookstores all over. There were several copies of Village School available for $1 plus shipping. There were even some in bookstores in the UK. I have hardly ever met a book I couldn't find there- although they're not always that cheap!