By Rachael Howarth, Head of Whole School Music at The British International School Bratislava and Coordinator for the Global Campus Virtual Choir.
I’ve been working closely with choirs and a cappella groups for many years before joining Nord Anglia. Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir has been particularly inspirational. Singing is good for your health and mental well-being and singing with others boosts happiness. The idea that you could sing with thousands of others from around the world and join in this huge choir was mind blowing.
When I joined British International School Bratislava (BISB) I quickly started up a boys, girls and staff choir to get us singing and we took part in the world sing for Peace Day. As I watched our Nord Anglia University discussions and the Twitter feeds light up I began to understand that being part of Nord Anglia is being part of something larger as so many of our schools had choirs and were also taking part. Then it hit me ‘Why don’t we do our own virtual choir and get everyone singing together!’
I had made many friends on the a cappella circuit and contacted arguably the most talented a cappella song writer in the field, Jack Blume. Well used to large scale projects, Jack is not easily intimidated and after an hour-long phone call he was onboard and as excited as I to start the project.
I pitched the idea to our Education Team and after an enthusiastic response I sent the idea around to 43 schools looking for participants. To my delight everyone came back with positive responses and by June we had 100% take up rate throughout all the schools. It was then just up to Jack to write it!
We asked each school to provide us with a basic idea of what their choirs could do; what their age range was and what singing experience they had. Some schools were setting up choirs specifically for the project, some were doing it with a class and others had established choirs that sang in many parts already. We had all ages sign up, from KS1 all the way up to school staff. This made writing the piece really fun but challenging.
The overall piece contains a main melody that is harmonised in several parts with body percussion and vocal sound accompaniment. Individual parts were created by Jack for each school based on the information they had given him with strict instructions on how they should be performed and recorded.
Music was sent to the schools in the autumn and by March we had both sound and video recordings flooding in from all over the world for Jack to put together.
Children and staff were very excited to be a part of it and I’ve been getting emails and tweets from all over the world asking when it would be ready. It’s been so fantastic that everyone has joined in to make this a spectacular project. We as musicians are trained to work as a team, yet the life of a music teacher is often isolating as you are usually in a small department. In schools in the UK you are often alone. In Nord Anglia we are all part of something that is so much bigger than our own school. Projects like this and our work with Juilliard make us feel like one global music department.
Thank you to all the amazing music teachers that worked on this project and to the Education Team at Juilliard who also made a special appearance.