Val Whitlock and and Shirley Court, authors of the acclaimed educational series Singing Sherlock, spoke to us about their fifth book - available now from Boosey & Hawkes.
Who is ‘Singing Sherlock’?
Singing Sherlock is a character who loves listening to children sing! Equipped with their vocal magnifying glass, Singing Sherlock investigates all the clues and pointers which are needed for quality singing, whilst simultaneously engaging the children themselves in the process.
The idea of the character came from our own practice over many years. Teaching singing is like being a vocal detective. The leader or teacher needs to listen and watch for the clues, and then draw on a toolkit of solutions and fixes.
The name Sherlock is actually a play on our names – Shirley and Whitlock.
The first Singing Sherlock book came out in the early 2000s. How did the series begin life?
At the time there was an abundance of children’s songbooks. However, none specifically covered the stages of children’s vocal development alongside the songs. We both had shelves of songbooks which each only contained one or two songs we could use successfully with children. We wanted a book where every song was useable. The two of us have always sung songs to each other down the phone! Over the years many of these now appear in the Sherlock books. But we also recognised there was a dearth of new material. We felt there was a need to commission composers who were specialists in writing for children i.e. with an understanding of their vocal and musical development.
Why has Singing Sherlock been so successful? In a changing educational landscape how does it continue to remain relevant in classrooms today?
We always wanted to produce books where every song was useable, as well as tried and tested by ourselves.
You’ve always made sure that Singing Sherlock is as accessible to classroom teachers who aren’t music specialists as it is to choral directors and specialist music staff. Has this become an increasingly significant factor as the series has progressed?
It was always challenging to address the needs of both generalist class teachers as well as music specialists. The songs are wide-ranging in difficulty – we tried to put the songs in an approximate order of difficulty within each section.
What was your experience of testing the music with children prior to publication?
Testing the songs was crucial to the process. Each newly written song was tried out in various contexts by both ourselves and other vocal specialists. This invariably led to songs being altered, re-written, and tweaked until we were satisfied with the outcome. We both found the children loved being our vocal guinea pigs.
Book 5 was released earlier this year. What should we look out for in the new volume?
The material is set out in a new format. The character of Singing Sherlock looks much more contemporary. In addition to their magnifying glass, Singing Sherlock now carries a smartphone, and his vocal clues are represented by emojis. We have continued the books’ tradition of a huge variety of songs, from simple to more demanding. However, Book 5 includes songs written by new and previously unpublished composers.
We also have included something called Singing Sherlock’s Vocal EFFECT. This is an acronym we have devised, which outlines the vital components for both effective singing and leading an effective singing session.
You’re currently revisiting books 1-4. Tell us what has changed in the new editions and why you have updated them.
Books 1 & 2 are now seventeen years old, so they certainly needed a makeover! In addition, we have another seventeen years’ experience to add to these volumes. We have therefore just updated Book 1 to a similar format as Book 5, and the others will follow.
As experienced educationalists, what would be your top five tips for leading effective and engaging classroom music sessions?
- Teaching singing is not just about the confidence of the teacher or leader. Confidence comes from knowledge, skill and experience. Nobody would even think of teaching maths without an understanding of their subject. Therefore, get some training.
- Learn how to use your own voice. This is your vital tool, not just so you can be a model for your singers, but also for your own vocal health and hygiene.
- Learn how to apply this specifically to children’s voices. There’s a well-known quote that says, ‘If you can’t explain something in simple terms you don’t understand it.’ It will take time and practice to hone your skills.
- You need to be able to assess the vocal and musical level of your children, and choose the suitable repertoire. This means choosing songs with an appropriate vocal range and lyrics that children can understand. You also need to have a clear vision of what you want the outcome to be.
- Share you passion about singing and the children will enjoy it!
> Further information on series: Singing Sherlock
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