More singing boys = fewer wars

Last weekend in Davis, CA, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Humble and Adam Reinwald of the Cantus men’s chorus based in the Twin Cities.

One of the things the singers said which struck with me was about how they consider it part of their mission to inspire boys to sing.

It’s not the first time that I’ve heard this mission from organizations that are centered on the singing male. Every boy choir in the land talks about the importance of getting boys into choruses and keeping them singing even through the challenging vocal change time during puberty.

But it was only yesterday while attending a concert in Boston by the Youth Pro Musica children’s chorus that the importance of encouraging boys to sing hit home.

Youth Pro Musica is like so many youth choruses around the country, which is as much as to say that it is peopled by ten times as many girls as boys. Despite Glee and The Voice, singing still seems to be an occupation that is considered to be feminine in nature.

In the more senior groups that comprise Youth Pro Musica, I spotted only two boys. I think there were around the same number in the younger group. Poor things, the more senior boys were dressed like waiters (see the photo above) and, I guess because their voices had already changed, they were forced to sit out of pieces that were only for treble chorus. Plus the group’s concert mood and etiquette was rather rigid and stolid — especially considering that it was supposed to be a festive holiday concert. The kids didn’t exactly look like they were enjoying themselves as they sung their way through Vivaldi’s Gloria, a few other Baroquey bits and the odd Christmas carol or two.

If I were a teenage boy, I certainly wouldn’t want to have anything to do with this lot. Show me to the nearest Wii.

And yet finding ways to engage boys in vocal music activities — and keeping them engaged through the vocal change — is one of the most important things you can do as a parent, teacher, vocal coach or other responsible adult. Countless studies have been done that show how much children benefit from singing, particularly in a group.

I am beginning to think seriously about what other means can be used to bring more boys to vocal music — I’m not just talking about choral music. Any kind of singing will do.

More singing boys = fewer wars.

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  1. says

    More singing boys = less war.

    I like large leaps of thought that point to things that we sense but that are impossible to explain. We could be mundane and say that singing challenges stereo-typical gender norms for boys, and thus deconstructs contrived masculinity which often finds expression in bullying and violence. The real truth, however, goes much deeper — to some region completely beyond words. We sing our worlds into being. So many have told us so, most famously aboriginal Australians. I think almost every poem Wallace Stevens ever wrote is about how song transforms the very substance of reality, like this quote from the “Idea of Order at Key West”::

    And when she sang, the sea,
    Whatever self it had, became the self
    That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
    As we beheld her striding there alone,
    Knew that there never was a world for her
    Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

    In the same way, you give boys brass instruments and they begin male bonding and soon march off to war, as it were. Another type of world is sung into being. Hence military bands. Who formulated that identity for brass instruments and men? I notice many women brass players seem to want to create a different image. Why should they live up to a paradigm in whose formulation they were not allowed to participate? Can they sing a different world into being? Is there some mythical resonance of transformation?

    It reminds me of something Richard Shaull once said: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

    Anyway, you once again rang my bells…

    • Neil McGowan says

      Any kind of active involvement in the liberal arts – from acting in plays, to playing the trombone, to painting pictures – plays an invaluable role in the formulation of a child’s future persona. But it’s activities which promote social interaction and interdependency which are the most valuable. This is what makes music so valuable. You can be a fabulous soloist in a group, but even the soloist has to wait until the others have given them their cue.