How do you maintain a spirit of community when faced with an extended period of isolation? Bringing people together through singing has been the essence of Gareth Malone’s work for over a decade. Whether it be through his days as a youth and community choir leader at LSO, inciting children’s investment in school through his seminal television programme The Choir, or bringing creative therapy to young offenders in Ayelsbury, singing is the golden thread that runs throughout. During a period in which most of us are in relative isolation of some form or another, the therapeutic communal power of singing is needed more than ever. The ‘Great British Home Chorus’, bringing together amateur and professional singers online, is a powerful manifestation of this need, as expressed by the thousands of applications that flooded in within hours of its conception.
Whole School Singing
These values of community, expression and creation are embodied in Malone’s recent project, the book Bright Star. Written with co-author and educator Catherine de Sybel, Bright Star is a compendium of original and accessible songs designed to reinvigorate whole school singing. Suitable for small groups, school choirs or larger masses, the collection of ‘secular hymns’ leads users on a journey through Primary and Secondary school, covering a wide range of topics including friendship, the environment, bereavement and growing up. Malone himself describes the book as being ‘packed full of really annoying ear worms, melodies that are rewarding but easy to sing, and that you won’t be able to get out your head!’
Speaking earlier this year at the Music&Drama Expo in London, Malone explained both the inspiration and concept behind Bright Star. ‘I was lucky enough in school to have one of those teachers who managed to inspire a real fascination in the subject matter from children,’ explains Malone. ‘I could have gone to a pushy academic school, but I got what I needed, which was a deep love for music. You need to have people in music education who care about its existence. I went to a school where someone was ready to fight for it, and understood its value. Music is absolutely essential to the life of a school. It is now possible to point to the reluctant Head Teacher and say, “look this argument about music and education has been won; it works”.’
One of the key features of Bright Star is its design to be used as a consistent resource, with songs on period specific topics such as Remembrance Day that allow it to be picked up and utilised throughout the year. ‘You can’t just get together to sing once a year,’ says Malone. ‘Music in a school, singing in a school has to be something that you just do. It doesn’t have to be for long. It doesn’t even have to be to the very highest standard. But it needs to be habitual. Look, it can be hard to justify getting the whole school together, but what singing does is it engages. If you have a bit of engagement somewhere in your day, where everyone is on the same page and has some fun, then it just helps to oil the wheels of the school. Music and the act of singing together is one of the few occasions within the life of a school where teacher and class can enjoy something collaboratively, together.’
In spite of everything, ‘lockdown’ has also brought out the very best in the people of Britain, and music has found itself at the heart of attempts to maintain a sense of community and cohesion. Bright Star is a manifestation of this ethos, and once schools reopen will ensure that today’s spirit of cooperation and unity lives on through the collective act of singing.