An Initiative of the Austrian Choral Association
For us human beings, singing has always been a thing of fundamental importance. Music educators and choral experts, however, have long been aware that the situation with regard to singing in schools has been growing dramatically worse. Despite fruitful approaches and successful initiatives here and there, it’s unfortunately now the case all over Austria that singing in schools is something that no longer goes without saying.
It was for this reason that the Austrian Choral Association (ChVÖ)—an umbrella organisation of Austrian choirs and choral music organisations and thus one of Austria’s largest such organisations—launched the initiative “Singen in der Schule” [Singing at School]. Over the past two years, a task force made up of experts from the Austrian Choral Association’s board authored a position paper accompanied by an extensive dossier: these materials portray the far-reaching importance of singing for primary school children on the basis of scientific studies, document outstanding best-practice examples in Austria and abroad, and formulate four key demands.
The Situation at Present
According to the Austrian Music Council, Austria can currently boast 130 primary schools, 100 new secondary schools, and eight academic secondary schools with musical emphases; there are also an additional 20 academic secondary schools with expanded musical offerings. At all other schools, music is for the most part a minor subject that in some cases features only theory and/or passive consumption. In an initial step, the Austrian Choral Association is focusing on primary schools, with the objective being to have children in all Austrian primary schools (once more) engage in singing.
Singing has extraordinarily positive effects on children—especially on the development of their intellectual, linguistic, and social abilities. Numerous (inter)national studies that take neurological, sociological, and medical aspects into account, excerpts from which are presented in the above-mentioned position paper and dossier, have shown this convincingly. What this means is that current hot-button issues such as integration, language skills, and inclusion can be more easily dealt with than one would suspect when supported by singing.
In terms of successful singing initiatives involving schools, the materials put together by the Austrian Choral Association document impressive best-practice examples. One such example within Austria is the “Meistersinger-Schule” seal of approval, which has been awarded to an increasing number of schools with choral activities by the Province of Styria over the past 10 years; as of this year, it has already been awarded to a total of 210 schools. What’s more, similar ways of recognising chorally active schools now exist in four further Austrian provinces.
An international example featured in the dossier is the Feversham Primary Academy in Bradford, England. There, once upon a time, disastrous scores in the disciplines of writing, arithmetic, and reading moved a new headmaster to make one crucial change: he increased music instruction (individual and ensemble teaching) from one hour to a full six hours per week. Seven years later, his school was already receiving outstanding scores in writing, arithmetic, and reading—and it has since been among the top 10 % of primary schools in Great Britain.
On the basis of the referenced scientific studies and in light of the documented best practice examples, the Austrian Choral Association has formulated four demands:
- that the musical work of educators active in the field be supported,
- that musical training for general educators be developed and established in a lasting way,
- that singing be made part of afternoon supervision at all-day schools, and
- that a national musical seal of approval for schools be created.
In the interest of amplifying these demands by the ChVÖ, the search is currently on for active supporters of this initiative in the provinces—and the list of existing supporters, which is growing longer by the day, already contains major institutions such as the mdw, the Vienna State Opera, the Volksoper, the Vienna Boys Choir, the Musikverein, the Konzerthaus, teachers colleges, and well-known artists.
Before the current school year is out, representatives of the Austrian Choral Association will be approaching the competent federal minister in order to present the above-mentioned four demands and discuss ways in which they might be realised. We’re confident that we’ll succeed in making clear singing’s importance in children’s development even to non-singing individuals who are responsible on the (federal) political level, so that our children in primary schools might once again begin singing more.
The Austrian Choral Association works to further the interests of over 3,500 choirs—(whose number exceeds that of Austrian football clubs by 50 %)—and around 105,000 singers.