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Christopher Bell: How music can help children on the post-Covid path to recovery

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WHEN counting the casualties left by the pandemic, we must not ignore the anxiety it induced in many people, and especially children. At NYCOS (National Youth Choir of Scotland) we work closely with children and experience how much anxiety affects them. We can also see that there is hope, and that singing has the ability to heal and help children build back their confidence and comfort to socialise in bigger groups with their peers and adults.

Children were among the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Isolated within their homes it’s not surprising that their developing social skills were severely affected. Many are afraid of being in public, meeting new people, or being away from home. With restrictions easing, they have been asked to go back to how things were. If this is a hard task for adults, it is even more challenging for children that barely remember their lives before Covid.

We have also noticed that girls seem more anxious and afraid to be in public, often resulting in physical symptoms such as stomach aches and even panic attacks. In my experience this is unusual; girls of that age often cannot wait to go out and be with their friends.

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At NYCOS we are going into schools to encourage children to join their regional choirs. For many, our visits were their first opportunity to sing together in two years, for others it was their first time singing as a group. Singing in schools had been stopped for two years. What we all took for granted as part of the school week previously was no longer permitted, and lost were the many benefits that regular experience has on young people both physically and mentally.

There has been an increase in children coming forward to speak about their feelings and ask for guidance. The role of our pastoral staff, always ready to listen and help has never been more important.

At NYCOS we experience first-hand the healing power of music. Through singing in a group, we can see their confidence building back, both in socialising and performing and engaging with others. It is not easy, and there is a lot to be done, but it’s extremely rewarding to see these life skills unlock once more.

NYCOS has a history of delivering unforgettable performances at the International Festival. Now we are back on that world stage and proud.

Having missed two years of recruitment we currently have 40 per cent new members and are working hard to get to know each other again and create the incredible sound we are renowned for.

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This is the start of a long path to recovery. The pandemic has left a heavy toll on many children. But we believe music can truly help guide them in the right direction, open up their lives, build back their confidence and give them incredible, exciting experiences. We have seen it happening at NYCOS, and are sure it can help many other children who have not yet experienced the transformative power of singing.

• Christopher Bell is the founder and director of the National Youth Choir of Scotland

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