At a time when all news feels like bad news, it’s a relief to find a project with so much to give.
The Barnardo’s National Choral Competition takes place this evening in the Royal Festival Hall. All day today seven senior school choirs and 18 junior school choirs will be singing their hearts out. The day culminates in a concert this evening during which every choir will sing one song and then all the choirs together will sing two pieces composed for the event by the enthusiastic composer and choral director Douglas Coombes CBE
For the past twelve years Barnardo’s Event Manager Jen Privett has teamed up to create a festival of youth choral singing. Youth and school choirs from all over the UK enter by sending in a recording from which 18 junior schools and six senior schools are invited to take part in the National Choir Competition each year.
‘It’s a significant fundraiser for Barnardo’s,’ Jen says, ‘raising about £25,000 for us.’
It’s also a great leveller. Two years ago, 16 private schools and two state schools were selected for the finals. The two state schools were placed first and second. The winning school was the Lindley Junior School Choir who, this year, are hoping for their third win in a row.
Another choir with its hopes up is the Raglan School Choir, run by the inspirational music director Sam Ojokor. Aside from her school duties, Sam is also the Primary Music Representative on the Enfield Music Hub Advisory Board.
‘We were very surprised to get through,’ Sam told me. ‘A large number of schools who got through were private.’ Sam had also just heard that her choir are also through to the borough choir competition finals. But not every school is lucky enough to have Sam teaching music.
‘I’m really passionate about music,’ she says. ‘Every child is a musician is my moto, so every child from year 3 should have the opportunity of learning an instrument, regardless of talent. Every year we get a gem or two.’
They’re very lucky children. Many state primary schools have no specialist music teachers at all and rely on whatever skills the general teachers can muster. The problem facing state secondary schools is the shortage of choral conductors.
‘An alarming number of music teachers don’t have the technical skills of directing choirs,’ says Douglas Coombes. ‘There is a national shortage of choral directors. ‘
Music education cuts aside, today at the Royal Festival Hall children from all over the country will sing together. Does it matter who wins?