Choral riff

Published: 24 November, 2013 08:56 IST | Meher Marfatia |

Big on little: Meher Marfatia

She was a whole month off. Around the end of November each year, my four-year-old would ask the same question. Which evening will the choir come to sing carols? It wasn’t till an entire month after that the Salvation Army choristers gathered in our garden. But in that excited baby head the Christmas countdown started as soon as the air turned crispy cool and her nursery pantomime got ready to be rehearsed.

Meher Marfatia

A little later, she and her brother joined The Singing Tree choir and loved it. I did too on seeing sheer magic at work. When smooth strains of Bach, Bacharach and Bernstein fill a concert hall, you know singing has a healthy future. It’s even better when you know singing holds a healthy future for every child member of the choir.

In an age aimed at isolating individual talent, group singing takes kids far. Inclusive by nature, children understand the joy and power of a choir humming in any language. "The smallest soon knows the value of listening attentively to other voices at moments one’s own must stay still,” I was once told by Freny Paghdiwala who groomed budding songsters of The Crystal Choral for 40 years. Nothing raises receptivity like this.

To take your place in a choir is to know exactly when to be quiet and when to jump in. An underrated life lesson too? The best teachers believe every child is tuneful. Choir camaraderie ensures it’s only a matter of adjusting to varying levels of skills. A choral combine of soprano, alto, tenor and bass harmonizes beyond segueing tones.

It trains wildly different young people to stand shoulder to shoulder hearing each other equally, closely, companionably. This is negotiation at its fairest and happiest. Some of my son’s firm friendships have sprung from kids he met over music, from early days of trilling the reedy notes of Chiquirriquitin, the robust rhythms of Calypso in unison.

Look at the faculties that are touched and thrive through a typical rehearsal... Choir music explores and exerts multiple intelligences —verbal, visual, spatial, kinesthetic, logical and interpersonal. Singing for fun is all very well but who wouldn’t like to give their kid a leg up in learning?

Language skills flourish - there’s a strong connect between reading words of a storybook and a melodic phrase. The natural flow of choral lyrics keeps children fluid and fluent for lasting reading habits. Maths gets maxed choral practice presents patterns, fractions, addition, subtraction, grouping and sequencing galore. Singing along with the radio or karaoke discs can’t count.

Exposure to a choir’s structured programme definitely expands the bit of the brain that does math. Overall skills soar markedly — a choir can bind the mind with a big part of the heart. It helps kids work cooperatively towards a common goal with discipline and confidence. Performing lyrics in repetition or variation results in building renewed memory, responsibility and creativity. Rather than shrink, attention spans widen.

Children with learning disabilities also get a boost from singing in formation. When Paghdiwala first took on such challenged kids, they sounded listless and off-pitch. Singing in rounds slowly yet surely enhanced their emotions and cognition. They absorbed and appreciated lines to respond to in patterns. Shedding academic and social diffidence, a few managed to shift from remedial to mainstream schools.

Group singing scores over solo warbling as it gets people in tune with the world in many more ways than the obvious. Trying out tunes in tandem is a clear stress-buster. Warming those vocal chords reaps undeniable benefits.

Research shared at a recent conference in Brisbane covered 1,100 singers from 21 choirs, to find 98 per cent rated their quality of life ‘excellent’. If making music together is hard, demanding dedication and teamwork, it’s as incredibly rewarding. So pucker up and pitch. Not just because Christmas is coming.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at:

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