Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Article excerpt

It was a bit of a surprise to hear Jarvis Cocker, the embodiment of cool and former frontman of Pulp, confessing to a love of Singing Together , a BBC programme straight out of the 1940s, with its clipped pronunciation and uptight pronouncements. But in his edition of Archive on 4 , broadcast just as the Advent season began (and produced by Ruth Evans), Cocker took us on a musical journey back into his past and to his memories of singing in the classroom, 'which certainly left its mark' on him and millions of others. He reminded us that children were once at the heart of BBC programming and Singing Together was thought to be a great way to 'improve young minds'. Catch them young and you'll hold on to them for life was the idea; make sure they learn the listening habit.

Cocker is living proof of the potency of these programmes. He still believes in the value of singing along, encouraging listeners to his 6 Music programme to join in by playing them clips from old Singing Together programmes. He has a booklet from the series, dated autumn 1974, with his name on the front cover (in long, angular lettering, just like him), and he can still sing all the songs he learnt as a knobbly-kneed schoolboy in Sheffield. In Archive on 4 Cocker took us back in time to remember those Monday mornings when, prompt at 11, teachers across the UK switched on the radio to hear William Appleby urging everyone to join in as the first notes began of 'Soldier, Soldier, Won't You Marry Me?' or 'Green Grow the Rushes, O'.

The teacher could sit back and let the radio take over. A single box placed high on the wall in one corner would instead control the classroom. As for the children, they didn't need to have a good voice, or know how to read music. No one was compared with anyone else. No marks were awarded. It was a time for self-expression in song, for letting the imagination wander into the stories told by the songs, which came from around the world as well as from Britain. It was also about joining together, sharing an experience.

Could such a programme work now, in our multi-platform, interactive, yet solitary age? One of the reasons why Singing Together was finally dropped in 2004 was that it didn't speak to the national curriculum. Just to sing, to listen, to join with others in music was not regarded as an adequate learning experience. Cocker and his fellow enthusiasts disagree. Those weekly sessions of pure singing could switch on a light in a child's mind and suggest, 'Maybe I can make music, maybe I can write my own songs. …

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