Widening Young Male Participation in Chorus

Lead Research Organisation: Edge Hill University
Department Name: Faculty of Education


There is a welcome resurgence of interest in youth singing, visible in the government funded campaign spearheaded by 'singing ambassador' Howard Goodall. However, this enthusiasm is marred by widespread recognition that young males may be significantly under-represented and a strong case can be made for addressing the gender imbalance in singing. Additional effort at boys' inclusion is justified not only to ensure future availability of adult male singers but at least equally by the demonstrable social and educational benefits of engaging more boys in an activity that will promote their well-being. Evidence indicates a further imbalance in social class and need to widen participation. A clear relationship has been demonstrated between educational opportunity and the misperception that the youthful, high voice is 'weird' or 'unnatural'. Confusing messages are also given to young boys by popular TV shows. The research shows a particular need to educate junior choir leaders, including primary teachers, about the capability of the young male voice, to provide enhanced opportunity to exploit it and above all, to provide younger boys with appropriate role models of singing by older boys and young men.

The key aims;

Develop a supportive infrastructure through which any boy, regardless of social background or circumstance, can be enabled to progress in choral singing

Provide clear role models of singing as an enriching activity for boys that counter negative stereotypes

Educate those who work with junior age children about the young male voice and the difficulties faced by boys who enjoy singing

Further enhance understanding of the 'missing males' syndrome in singing by knowledge exchange between expert researchers and practitioners

The National Youth Choir of Great Britain has the potential to realise the aims detailed above through the intermediary role of two large university faculties engaged in children's workforce development. The NYC maintains a Northern and Southern choir for ten to fourteen year olds to nurture voices until they reach an appropriate standard for the National Youth Training Choir. The Northern choir would be linked to the lead institution, Edgehill University, and the Southern choir to the University of the West of England. These can provide a venue and focus of activity for networks of junior choirs. Advanced technical development for the project will be provided the University of York. Each region would address the question of how the previous research results can be used to create networks and events that nurture boys' singing through role models. It is possible to draw on a successful pilot scheme already developed by the principal applicant through the Choir Schools Association. This indicates that key roles for the NYC are:

To provide advice on eclectic, high quality repertoire to nurture junior voices to audition standard

To provide boy singers as role models through an interactive e-book

To provide young male leaders to refine performance at regional events

The key roles for the HEIs are:

To maintain networks of junior choirs committed to the project

Create two key resources to be used and support teachers in their use (an e-book on the young male voice and supporting web pages, using boys from the NYC)

Facilitate and host regional events

A detailed evaluation of every stage of the project that will provide significant new research data of high value to choral practitioners will be a key function of the lead HEI. This structure dictates a two year life cycle for the project. Year one: identification of the repertoire and recording of this during NYC courses (held twice a year); production of the e-book and demonstration material. Year two: regional meetings of leaders for training/distribution of the e-book; use of the materials in junior choirs; regional singing days and concerts to celebrate and showcase success.
Title Big Acoustics 
Description Film featuring Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir in which the impact of singing in a large, resonant space is demonstrated. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact Increased understanding of performance venue. Chorister outreach work by Choir Schools Association 
URL http://www.martin-ashley.com/student-pages/sound-space
Title NCYGB and ABCD Cambiata Choirs 
Description Series of sound recordings demonstrating the cambiata voice. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2010 
Impact The cambiata singing method is being adopted across the UK. 
URL http://www.martin-ashley.com/sound-archive/boys-keep-singing
Title Riding the Changes 
Description Film featuring young artist Inigo Byrne 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact Development of "cambiata" choirs in schools and music hubs 
URL http://www.martin-ashley.com/student-pages/genres
Title Vocal Health 
Description Film featuring vocal coach Jenevora Williams and boys from the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact Improved understanding of vocal health amongst young male singers 
URL http://www.martin-ashley.com/student-pages/survival
Title Vocal Science 
Description A film featuring Professor David Howard and boys from the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2009 
Impact Improved understanding of voice production by secondary school music teachers and choir directors working with 11 - 1r4 age group 
URL http://www.boys-keep-singing.org
Description The project investigated the understandings of adolescent voice change held by teachers and by school pupils. In particular it sought to establish patterns of success and failure associated with the retention of boys in choral singing between the ages of 11 and 14, a time when it is well known from previous research that large numbers of young males are lost to this activity. Five key success factors were identified for choral settings and presented in a series of filmed outputs based on the peer2peer education principle:

1. A real commitment to boys' participation in the arts, supported by the senior leadership team

2. A willingness to organise the timetable to avoid wherever possible a clash between singing and sport

3. A willingness to experiment with opportunities for boys to explore voices without the presence of girls, such as setting music classes by gender or the provision of parallel, single sex extra-curricular activities.

4. Knowledge of and the ability to apply key research findings on the changes that happen to boys' voices between the ages of ten and fifteen.

5. A willingness to celebrate the achievements of boys who sing, for example through performing to primary school children as ambassadors for the school.

Of these five points, it was found that for the teachers it was new subject knowledge and improved understanding of voice development in boys that motivated changes in practice. For the boys, it was the freedom to discover their voices in a situation where they were protected from girls' comments and judgements. Boys were found to be significantly more sensitive to this issue than commonly recognised and the research demonstrated that boys quickly and readily changed their attitudes when moved to a single sex setting.
Exploitation Route This research can be used wherever there is a desire to engage boys in singing, particularly between the ages of eleven and fourteen. This would include schools, both within and without the normal curriculum. It would include any community music activity, for example, youth choirs, church choirs, informal singing groups etc. It has some relevance to other situations where it is desired to broaden boys' outlooks and engage them in cultural and artistic activities. It has a significant degree of relevance in educational and youth work settings that address such issues as homophobic bullying or gender equality.
Sectors Education

URL http://www.martin-ashley.com/boys-keep-singing
Description The National Curriculum requires all children to sing up to the age of 14. n 2010 the DfE and the DCSS jointly formulated a new National Music Plan and accepted the findings of the research, and published it as a case study in the National Music Plan, recommending that all UK secondary schools should adopt the research findings. The Music Plan requires the setting up of music "hubs" that are required to develop a singing strategy. Music hubs have been using the research to develop their singing strategies through recognition of the extent to which they need to engage boys. The National Singing Programme ("SingUp") has used the research to inform a ne programme "Sing Up Secondary". Secondary schools have used the research to develop new singing activities for boys, including outreach to primary schools and the development of continuity across primary/secondary transition. Ability to track the project website shows the materials being used in over 500 secondary schools, mainly in the UK but also globally including Australia and Kenya. The Association of British Choral Directors is using the research findings to establish networks of teachers and conductors across its UK regions. Oxford University press has commissioned a new "cambiata choral series" based directly on the research. This has resulted in composing and arranging commissions for individuals working in the creative industries.
First Year Of Impact 2006
Sector Creative Economy,Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title Speech Test 
Description A smart phone/ table app that completes an assessment of the speaking fundamental frequency of a young male voice. 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The tool is currently undergoing a clinical trial. If this is successful, the impact could be significant as large scale studies of the secular trend in male pubertal timing could be carried 
URL http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/clnr/uk-national-standards-for-adolescent-growth/
Title 1000 Boys Voices 
Description Digital audio recordings of >1000 adolescent boys' voices, analysed for speaking fundamental frequency and, in the case of singers, singing range. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The development of a smartphone app that assess the pubertal status of a boy through analysis of the pitch of his speaking voice and comparison of the result with the database. Two applications for this outcome are under development: (a) a version for use in front-line medical screening that eliminates the need for intrusive examination to establish puberty stage and (b) a version for use by choir directors and singing teachers to assist in allocation of the boy to the correct choralpart or song range. 
URL http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/clnr/uk-national-standards-for-adolescent-growth/
Title Speech Test 
Description A smartphone app that analyses a boy's voice and determines the stage of pubertal development and singing range appropriate to the stage. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact A collaboration has been developed with Professor Gary Butler (UCL and UC Hospital) and Professor David Howard to undertake a validation study based on recordings of the Speech test app and salivary testosterone samples. The study is currently funded by the University of York. Subject to a successful outcome the app will be further developed as a commercial project in conjunction with the UK National Standards for Adolescent Growth. 
URL http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/clnr/uk-national-standards-for-adolescent-growth/
Description Boys Keep Singing -ongoing school singing day programme. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Schools have developed policies and practices to engage boys in singing. Schools have started up cambia (changing voice) activities for boys. Regional boys choirs have been formed by clusters of schools.

The Association of British Choral Directors promoted the Cambiata North West regional choir after two of my Boys Keep Singing training days. This choir subsequently performed in the BBC War Horse Prom, to be broadcast on BBC 1 , 27th December 2014. The Cornwall Music Hub also formed a regional cambiata boys choir in conjunction with a BKS training day. This choir has performed to HRH Prince Charles.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
URL http://www.martin-ashley.com/consultancy/schools
Description Sing Tank 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Activity informed policy of the National Singing Programme.

An increased profile for activities and songs that target specifically boys in Sing Up
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011
URL http://www.singup.org