What’s interesting here is that my choir all looked at me as if I had gone mad. Was I seriously expecting them to sing a repertoire of music that has been learnt over the past 12 months or so, and without any music or words in front of them? The implication was that I was asking the impossible, that this was totally unrealistic, and what on earth was I even suggesting it for!
My reasoning behind this apparently unreasonable request is based on my experience in schools. My day job involves trekking around the countryside recording school choirs and other musical groups. Increasingly I’ve noticed a lot of school choirs will get through an entire day's worth of recording without so much as a sneaky glance at any music. And it’s not just particular age groups or those singing simple songs. Over the last few months I’ve paid more attention to this aspect of each choir we have recorded and whether they are year 2 or university students, but the vast majority sing everything from memory. When you consider that a recording often involves going back and doing part of the piece again, this suggests that a lot of the school choirs have intimate knowledge of each piece. Consequently, they can just as easily start with verse two or the final chorus as they can go from the top.
Well this naturally got me thinking. Why was it that school choirs could all sing from memory and yet my ladies choir were so against the idea? I had one theory that maybe people of a school age found it easier to learn words. But, unfortunately for my ladies, this was proven wrong when I recently attended a concert of a Welsh Male voice choir who were all probably around retirement age and not a single sheet of music was in sight for the duration of a 2 hour concert.
I can only conclude that in fact it is nothing to do with ability, or having time to learn words. I think it’s a simple question of discipline and the lack of alternatives. Last week we recorded a choir from an infant school. They recorded a total of 12 songs, which lasted for about half an hour in all. For the vast majority of songs the kids sang entirely from memory. That alone impressed me, but then as we were packing up I found out from the music teacher they had only started learning a lot of the songs in the previous week! When I asked about learning the words and music I was told quite simply, well they don’t have a choice!
I think this is the important lesson here. Kids at school get told to learn something, so by and large they go and learn it. It shows a respect for the teachers and it's all part of the education. I think the rest of us could learn a lot by considering the discipline instilled in us at school with a view towards relying more on our memories rather than always just “googling” the answer.