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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 17:26 GMT
Young choristers rise to occasion
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter

The tension was palpable as the members of Hunters Hall primary school choir shuffled onto the stage.

The youngsters grinned at each other nervously as their eyes focused beyond their teacher into the terrifying black of north London's Roundhouse Theatre auditorium.

Hunters Hall Primary School choir perform at the Roundhouse
The choir performed at the State of Play Festival

And as they prepared to sing for the great and the good - gathered to discuss music education policy - the words of their choir teacher Liz Bates in rehearsal must have run through their heads.

"Now listen you lot. You are going to get on that stage and you are going to sock it to them - just like you always do."

And once the piano had swelled the Dagenham school children into action - they did just that - relaxing their shoulders and shaking off the skin-pricks of nerves.

Their performance even brought tears to the eyes of a few hardened reporters in the theatre and drew a rousing response from the audience.

And just as the words of the piece they performed said they would - the youngsters felt their power growing with their song.

The choir has become a very central thing - it holds the school together
Mrs Bates

It is this sense of confidence that group singing brings that makes it so important for young children, Mrs Bates explains.

"Because they grow in confidence, it aids so many of their other subjects. They know they are achieving something and they enjoy the performance."

She adds: "It's an opportunity for the boys as well as the girls. As many boys want to join the choir as want to join the football team.

"The choir has become a very central thing - it holds the school together to be honest."

Nine-year-old Joe says being part of the choir gives him a sense of responsibility.

Liz Bates
Music provides an escape for some youngsters, says Mrs Bates

"It's like we are representing everyone. We are doing a very important thing for the school because we are giving it a good reputation."

He is delighted to hear that extra money is to be spent on choirs in schools around the country, so that others can do what he does so well.

For Education Secretary Alan Johnson, who popped in to have his photo taken with the choir before giving his speech, it is the way music learning feeds into and boosts other subjects that is especially important

"We've made the link between sport and healthy eating - the same link can be made with music.

"Music can enhance academic attainment."

"It's important for all children - but it is more important for children from deprived backgrounds to have access to music because these are the children who may not get the same opportunity to listen to music at home," he adds.

Howard Goodall, Alan Johnson and some members of Hunters Hall Primary School choir
The education secretary drops in for a photo call with choir members

This is something with which Mrs Bates agrees.

"A lot of these children have got really difficult backgrounds. They're having to deal with that as well as not having a lot of parental support.

"The choir gives them something outside all that."

Ahead of the performance, 10-year-old Sope denies being daunted by the big occasion.

Shrugging off any suggestion of nerves she says: "We're pretty used to going on stage.

"I've been singing in the choir since I joined the school.

"Why do I like doing it? Because it makes me happy."

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