I’ve never claimed to be much of a royalist, but I’m not sure how I managed to miss the coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee quite so completely this time last year. I didn’t see the barge in the rain or hear about the concert except via Twitter. I don’t think I even heard the song Gary Barlow and chums put together, ‘Sing’, which I have just been learning for a new local choir.
‘Sing it louder, sing it clearer, knowing everyone will hear ya.
Make some noise, find your voice tonight’
exhorts the chorus, and I guess it is fairly catchy. The certainty that ‘everyone will hear ya’ seems a little misplaced, although if it is covered by schools and choirs across the commonwealth it may become fairly ubiquitous eventually. Quite what we are singing about is perhaps even more questionable. We sound pretty excited about whatever it is:
‘Sing it stronger, sing together, make this moment last forever’
‘To sing we’ve had a lifetime to wait, and see a thousand faces celebrate’
The video brings in performers from Kenya, South Africa, Jamaica, Australia and the Solomon Islands. From across what used to be the British Empire, young and old joined to celebrate Her Majesty’s 60th Jubilee:
‘You brought hope, you brought light, conquered fear, no it wasn’t always easy.
Stood your ground, kept your faith, don’t you see right now the world is listening to what we say.’
Really? Is this what we’re singing about? While I have some respect for the Queen I can’t say it would ever cross my mind to sing about her in this way. I’m not sure many others in the choirs across the country would particularly choose this either. But choirs are not democracies. Your voice may be welcome if you sing approximately in tune and in the right place and don’t speak over the conductor. But he or she will choose the songs and the arrangements, lead the warm up exercises and tell you what to do. Some choirs have much more stringent audition policies. Discipline and practice are important and if you’re lucky you’ll have some fun along the way (or in the bar afterwards). Being part of a large choir singing in harmony can be a fantastic experience which can involve finding or losing your voice.
The marking I have been doing over the last few days has included many student essays about School Councils and how well they facilitate listening and participation of children and young people. The government and Ofsted reports understandably pick out lots of strengths about helping children learn about democracy, building self-confidence and promoting children’s right to be heard as declared by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Other reports have identified how young people don’t often get much choice in the matters discussed (school meals, uniforms and facilities being particularly frequent topics) and how it’s often the more articulate, elite or popular children who end up representing their peers, leaving those with special educational needs or from minority groups being under-represented.
Some of my students have addressed the topic with more enthusiasm and skill than others, but some of the things that have made me sad (apart from plagiarism) are how some have pointed to the need to prepare pupils for the ‘real world’ where they won’t actually have a say, where representation is unequal or tokenistic or where policies are just for show. Box ticking to please an inspector rather than a culture of listening and respect. There are some examples of good practice out there in school councils, see Speaker’s School Council for some prize winning examples including an LGBT awareness project and a Real Tools Bob the Builder playground building project. I guess the biggest success stories have to be where real relationships and challenges within school have been addressed in a way that gives a chance for all to be heard and for more respect and understanding and peace. Or as Gary put it,
‘To hear a thousand voices shouting love, and life and hope’
Because in the end, I think that is what the song, ‘Sing’ is about. It may have been written by Royal Commission and to celebrate the remarkably long reign of a woman who has lived a life of privilege and sacrifice that are hard to reconcile, but in the future it will be sung for other reasons. It captures something about being together, about singing together which has to be a popular theme for most choirs. It captures something of belief and hope without excluding people of varying or no religious faith. And if school choirs or school councils or community groups decide they have something to communicate about love and life and hope, I hope we’re listening.