Singing Together

Anyone out there remember Singing Together?  It ran on BBC radio for 60 years from 1939, when it was introduced to reach schoolchildren evacuated all over the country during the war.  At 11 o’clock every Monday morning school teachers across Britain would tune in and their pupils would, well, sing together.

Back in the ‘60s, my hair in plaits, I was one of them and, hopeless warbler as I was (still am), to this day I can remember the friendly voice of presenter William Appleby and many of the words to Pretty Peña, also where I was sitting in my primary school classroom (front left beside a mesmerising painting of a cliff soaring over a turquoise sea) when I belted them out.

The great thing about the weekly programme, first aired on the home service for schools and then Radio 4, was that no matter where we children were, for 20 minutes at the start of the week, we would all be singing the same songs together.  It gave a sense of comforting continuity and community which, even now, almost half a century later, I can conjure up.

I must admit I’d forgotten all this until I recently attended the launch of an important new report by the Commission on Dementia and Music, and no less a person than the internationally renowned soprano Lesley Garrett reminded me.

It turns out that Miss Garrett CBE, as well as having the most gorgeous voice, is patron of the Lost Chord, a charity dedicated to improving the quality of life and well-being of those with dementia, using music.

Like so many of us involved in the dementia sector, Miss Garrett has a personal interest in the subject.  She told us all that when her Auntie Joan (known as AJ) developed Alzheimer’s – and even when she could no longer remember her own children’s names – “the sound of music she adored sung by someone she adored could bring her alive.  She would open her eyes, shake, and tears would pour down her face”.

There are growing numbers of dementia charities, therapies and practices with music at their heart – from Playlist for Life which uses an individual’s personalised playlist to connect with them even when their dementia is severe, to the Alzheimer’s Society’s 300 Singing for the Brain groups, not to mention the Lost Chord.

Now the Commission on Dementia and Music (whose members include experts such as Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia) has produced an in-depth piece of research into existing practices with the aim of developing them further, spreading best practice and joining some dots.  The full report can be found on the International Longevity Centre UK’s website.

One of the report’s starkest and saddest revelations is that – despite the plethora of schemes and therapies – educated estimates suggest that good quality arts and music provision is currently available in just five per cent of care homes.  Five per cent!  It’s a shockingly small figure which, hopefully, the commission will help to increase through its major recommendations: to co-ordinate delivery and build intelligence, develop the research base, raise public awareness, co-ordinate and grow funding and make the best use of technology.

But in the meantime, while a staggering 95 per cent of care home residents miss out on the great benefits to be gained from music, why not – suggested Miss Garrett – introduce Singing Together for elderly people?  Whether living at home or in residential care they wouldn’t even need to have good wi-fi for it to work (internet provision in residential accommodation is notoriously patchy).  The genius of Miss Garrett’s splendid idea is that it would only take a humble radio (what we used to call a wireless, remember those?) to bring it about.

Of course the BBC would have to agree to it.  But surely this would fall perfectly within their remit of public service broadcasting?  They could step in and fill the void.  Perhaps the Alzheimer’s Society could partner up with them?  Listeners could request their favourite songs.   Neighbourhood Singing Together groups could form.  And, regardless of age or musical ability (that’s me sorted), anyone else who wanted to sing could simply tune in.

Like all the best ideas, it is straightforward and – once thought of – pretty obvious.  Lesley Garrett, you are not only a peerless soprano and a wonderfully rousing speaker, you are also a genius.  All we need now is for the head honchos at the BBC to pick up the baton and make this thing happen.



18 Responses to Singing Together

  1. Vickit Tapia 25th January 2018 at 8:06 pm #

    What a perfectly marvelous idea, Pippa! I hope the BBC will get onboard.

    • Pippa Kelly 26th January 2018 at 10:13 am #

      Yes I really hope they do Vicky! Going to keep bleating on about it because it’s one of those very simple ideas that could make a difference. I know it’s not the answer but it’s a start.

  2. Christine Morgan 26th January 2018 at 10:08 am #

    I loved Singing Together as a child and the booklets that went with the series. I think this is a brilliant idea for care homes, especially those working with people with Alzheimer’s.

    I do hope the BBC pick this up as this would be a fantastic resource for care homes with very little expense needed and can be organised by people who are not specialists in music. Although musical specialists would add so much more to the sessions- maybe links with neighbourhood schools could be encouraged too? Declaring my interest as ex teacher/Headteacher with special interest in music so can see the potential for this idea.

    • Pippa Kelly 26th January 2018 at 10:15 am #

      Excellent! Thanks Christine. I very much hope that I can push this idea along and will keep you posted as to how it goes. The more apparent support it gains, through people leaving comments and retweeting etc, the more chance of success.

  3. Heather wenban 28th January 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    Great recommendation & one so simple in improving the quality of life for may people living in our care homes😊

    • Pippa Kelly 29th January 2018 at 1:36 pm #

      Thanks Heather – I think so. And I’m drumming up support for a letter to the Times to urge the BBC to make it happen.

      • Chris Moon-Willems 30th January 2018 at 6:16 am #

        Great idea Pippa! Good luck with your effort to get the Beeb on board. Where care homes do have WiFi access, voice activated devices could be used to search for favourite songs for residents to sing along with.

  4. Chris Moon-Willems 30th January 2018 at 6:16 am #

    Great idea Pippa! Good luck with your effort to get the Beeb on board. Where care homes do have WiFi access, voice activated devices could be used to search for favourite songs for residents to sing along with.

  5. Maureen Haltrecht 23rd February 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    We are the Memory Lane Singing Club and have been established 25 years in Finchley, London. We perform to care homes etc. between six to eight times a year and we always have wonderful feedback. Singing familiar songs to people with dementia has a profound effect on those who give and those who receive.
    Good luck to you in your endeavours.

  6. Ann Gray 2nd March 2018 at 11:59 am #

    A totally wonderful idea
    please do it as soon as you can !
    Mondays are a bust day in most homes, but a Tuesday morning, singing across the country, it makes me feel emotional
    We have a brilliant music therapist and she has taught us extraordinary ways of using singing

  7. Douglas Coombes 18th May 2018 at 1:04 pm #

    A friend of mine sent me your article ‘Every song he sings brings him alive’ which was printed in the Daily Telegraph on April 27th. The r and sometimes broadcastereason that it was sent to me was because from 1968-1988 I was the producer, writer,arranger of Singing Together. I couldn’t agree more with the views expressed in the article and by others regarding the power of music and in particular singing and how it can as you so aptly put it make magical connections. For example, in the past, with my wife I have performed for Hospital Audiences Inc. in the USA in hospitals and care homes and seen first hand the effect that songs have on people of all ages.. I am still heavily involved in music being the conductor of the New English Concert Orchestra (the orchestra of the Battle Proms) as well as direct two choirs. I also conduct choral concerts at the Royal Albert Hall for Barnardo’ s and always choose a few songs from past Singing Together programmes. It is interesting how the children and teachers, and also audiences, take to the folk songs. If you feel that I can help in any way please do not hesitate in getting back to me and I would be happy to chat to you about your campaign.

    • Pippa Kelly 5th June 2018 at 5:04 pm #

      Douglas, thank you. I have emailed you.

  8. Nigel Parsons 27th February 2020 at 12:42 pm #

    If ever you get this to a point where it becomes viable, please let me know. I can volunteer as a ‘resource’. I hold a good collection of these booklets, including a full 30 year run from 1954-1984

    • Pippa Kelly 27th February 2020 at 4:32 pm #

      Thank you Nigel – will do!

    • Pippa Kelly 26th March 2020 at 11:09 am #

      Hi Nigel, just blogged about Singing Together in the light of all the various singing initiatives during the COVID-19 outbreak. Could you possibly send a few photos of covers of your booklets for me to use as illustrations? I’m using the opportunity to urge the BBC to reintroduce ST again – all the current singing projects use the internet, to which many older people and those with dementia do not have access. The brilliance of Singing Together on the radio was just that: it was on the radio. Simple, accessible to all. My email is Many thanks, Pippa

  9. Nigel Parsons 22nd May 2020 at 8:52 pm #

    Hi, Pippa
    Just seen this, email sent.

  10. Garry Reed 7th November 2020 at 11:47 pm #

    What a brilliant idea.
    As a recently retired headteacher in Devon I have a large number of copies of the pupils’ books and teachers’ notes. I used the booklets (often without the programmes) throughout my teaching career of 44 years.

    • Pippa Kelly 8th November 2020 at 10:10 am #

      How wonderful! Thanks for taking the time to comment Garry. As soon as I found my old Singing Together booklet I was back there again, in my classroom, warbling away.

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