It’s the New Year and choirs everywhere are capitalising on New Year’s resolutions and inviting new members to join them. Many of these choirs reassure potential members that anyone is welcome to join them.
But even in the face of a growing public narrative that ‘everyone can sing’, there's still a section of the population who are convinced that they're ‘tone deaf’, and that group singing is not something they would be able to participate in.
Since April 2016, Dr Karen Wise has been running a research project at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The project, called ‘Finding a Voice’, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and specifically looks at people who exclude themselves from group singing, believing that they can’t sing.
Finding a Voice has recruited and worked with 20 non-singers, offering weekly individual and group singing lessons from a team of expert tutors. Making Music has been part of the advisory group for this project, alongside representatives from LSO Discovery, the Barbican and the Sidney de Haan Centre.
Finding a Voice tracked 20 participants and collected data looking at four key areas; skill development, including vocal and musical skills; changes in attitudes and beliefs, including social judgement and elitist beliefs about singing; narratives from participants about the journey itself; and the process of teaching and learning, including specific strategies used by teachers.
As part of the project, Guildhall recently hosted a workshop for practitioners entitled ‘Enabling adult non-singers’, looking at interim trends and results of the project. The findings so far are heartening; a number of participants who were terrified of singing in front of others at the start of the project have recently performed in public concerts, and several have gone on to join choirs.
The project is keen to challenge the notion that ‘singing is just about confidence’, recognising that there is a key element of skill development that needs to be in place. Perhaps a more helpful message for existing choirs to be putting out to potential new members is not ‘everyone can sing’, but ‘everyone can learn to sing’.
In the final phase of the project, the researchers will be analysing the data and creating reports and recommendations, leading to a final conference in late 2018 or early 2019. Co-investigator on the project Professor Andrea Halpern from Bucknell University, USA, and Dr Wise are working with an app developer to create an app to train auditory imagery; ‘the ability to imagine sounds in the “mind’s ear”’. For more information visit the project website.