Carol singing at Christmas.
Singapore is a noisy city - but there is one kind of noise that is curiously absent: carol singing at Christmas.
When I grew up in England, there was a tradition of carol singing at Christmas. Young boys and girls would actually go from house to house, singing carols, at the doors to the homes of strangers, as a means of celebrating Christmas and bringing something beautiful into being.
On occasion, I was one such carol singer. I did so for several years, in the run up to The Year That My Voice Broke. When it did, I stopped singing carols - but until that dreaded moment, I had a treble voice. I used to revel in reaching the highest of notes with ease and in expressing the most exquisitely complex of classical music with deftness. However, it was not to last...when my voice broke, I never sang in public again.
Anyway, I remember one Christmas, in particular, when I would have been about 11 years old, going from house to house, in Wimbledon, with a single other boy and an adult in supervision, singing at the doors of people's homes. I really enjoyed it - and from the smiles, I still remember, of those strangers, looking down at us, as we stood in their doorways, they really enjoyed it too. They seemed to think we were sweet.
It is Christmas, in Singapore, but I don't hear any carol singers going from door to door. I haven't seen one since 1999. There is not that singing tradition here. It is a pity because carol singing always added some unique colour to Christmas, I felt - especially for the singers themselves, for whom it was a chance to express the art within them.
It begins in the schools, in Singapore. There is not the tradition of school choirs. Or should I say, not in the way that I knew it, in England. I have heard a school "choir" here in Singapore - and it was quite the most dreadful noise I have ever heard. None of the kids could sing - and I mean NONE. They were out of tune, raucous, discordant and very irritating. (I could name the school in question, if anyone doubts it, but out of kindness, I do not at this time). It was clear to me, that these children did not grow up singing. They did not learn to sing as primary kids (it was a secondary school) - and so had not acquired the rudiments of holding a tune. Either that, or they were naturally a truly tuneless bunch. Perhaps music is not the common gift of all, around here.
So, I find it strange that Christmas has come, but the carol singers are basically absent. It seems to me that Singaporeans are missing one of the ingredients of a memorable Christmas. More than that, though, in not having a tradition in which school kids are commonly taught to sing, they are missing a vital ingredient of a vital culture. From my point of view, no matter how many classical performances are put on at the Esplanade, if the general population are not singers, then Singapore doesn't really understand music - for it is not in the people themselves.
Another issue is the quality of the choirs that do exist. From what I have heard, they are really not any good. Contrast this with the situation in England, in which the choirs of some good schools were SO good that they received recording contracts and had their music distributed professionally. Musically speaking, it is a totally different world.
Perhaps one day, there will be wandering carol singers at Christmas and school choirs which can really, really sing, in ironically named SINGapore...but it may be many years to come and would require a change of attitude towards cultural pursuits. People here would have to think that the outcome is worthwhile, for them to pursue it at a national level. Unfortunately, the only question on their minds will be, not how can we make Singapore a more wholistic culture, but how can we make money out of a population that appreciates music and can sing? If the powers-that-be can't see the money in a singing population, then SINGapore will never become a nation of singers.
Personally, I see this issue as more about the depth of life that is lived. Those times I went carol singing as a child were immensely enjoyable for me. I still remember them well. Shouldn't all children have the opportunity for such memories? Shouldn't all children have the chance to learn to enjoy expressing themselves musically?
The big question is why don't local children have the ability to sing on the level I remember from my childhood in England? What is missing here, in Singapore? Why can't SINGapore sing? Why is Singapore culturally so muted? (In a literal sense, in this case.) It is not necessary for economic success that one should also have cultural failure. Yet, looking around, one would almost come to believe that it was. Singapore can thrive economically AND culturally...there need only be the will to ALLOW it to be so.
Good luck, SINGapore.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.
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