The National Schools Singing Programme in Scotland
David Meiklejohn writes about the work of the National Schools Singing Programme. David is the Principal Adviser of the programme in Scotland and from 1 September 2023 will be an affiliate lecturer in music education in the School of Education of the University of Glasgow.
The Hamish Ogston Foundation is an ambitious, committed and commercially astute charitable organisation based in the UK, with a global reach and dedicated to three prime areas of philanthropic focus: Heritage, Health and Music. The Foundation was set up by Hamish Ogston CBE, a successful entrepreneur from a very early age and thereafter a committed philanthropist.
The National Schools Singing Programme (NSSP) is for all Catholic dioceses in the UK to create or enhance their own quality music programmes for children educated in Catholic state schools. Working within Catholic dioceses across Britain, its grant funding is available to develop financially sustainable projects to enhance children’s holistic learning and engage with their parishes and communities.
The NSSP initiative takes inspiration from the Schools Singing Programme developed by the Diocese of Leeds in 2003 to establish and improve music programmes for children at Catholic state schools in and around Leeds, reaching around 6,500 children every week. It uses the existing infrastructure of Catholic schools and offers additional funds to support world-class inclusive music programmes. The programme’s lead musicians, Benjamin Saunders and Thomas Leech, act as consultants for the NSSP and support other dioceses as they develop music programmes for young people.
While many diocesan choirs and large parish choirs tend to attract mature adults, it is important to ask where our choirs will be in five or ten years’ time. While we are often preoccupied with the immediate (for understandable reasons), we do need to take stock and ensure that we are developing the next generation of accomplished singers for our cathedrals and parishes. Good quality results in fine liturgical singing are never accidental but the product of sound vision, sustained effort, determination and skill.
School music provision can be inconsistent across Scotland with some primary schools having no specialist music tuition available to them. The pandemic has not helped in developing sacred singing, but now there is a tremendous opportunity to change the landscape with a new catalyst for change, providing musical excellence.
We cannot, for whatever reason, choose to distance ourselves from the inspirational view that the Church affirms on liturgical music over the centuries. Regrettably, music at Mass today can often appear commonplace, routine and less than worthy of the great Sacrament it seeks to serve. The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concillium promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1963, states that ‘The musical tradition of the universal church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater than that of any other art . The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care. Religious singing by the people is to be intelligently fostered …. and choirs must be assiduously developed’. . Forty years later, referring to Sacrosanctum Concillium, in Spiritus et Sponsa, Pope John Paul II states that ‘Sacred Music is a privileged means to facilitate the active participation of the faithful in sacred celebration’ . ‘It is more necessary than ever to intensify liturgical life within our communities by means of appropriate formation of the pastors and of all the faithful with a view to the active, conscious and full participation in liturgical celebrations . Pope Benedict XVI too was a passionate supporter of promoting excellence in liturgical music with many profound writings on the subject, while last year Pope Francis in Desiderio Desideravi emphasises the beauty of what the Spirit is saying to us in the liturgical formation of the people of God. He states that ‘Every aspect of the celebration of the Mass must be carefully attended to’, including song and music .
It is incumbent on us to reveal and share our rich musical treasury with the next generation, encouraging their active participation. To deepen children’s capacity for wonder and appreciation and not least to optimise their engagement with Our Saviour through sacred music is a laudable aim. Let all voices flourish once again in the service our Church family in Scotland. With the dioceses of Aberdeen, Motherwell and Paisley actively engaged in this innovative programme, we are incredibly grateful to the Hamish Ogston Foundation for its generosity and long-term support.
If we care about Evangelisation, Liturgy, Youth Formation, excellent and meaningful singing in our parishes and providing youngsters with a life-long devotion, then this is an opportunity to be fully embraced.