Enormously popular reality TV singing competitions attract plenty of male contestants, but getting school-age boys involved in singing remains a serious challenge for music educators.
Monash University researcher Dr Clare Hall from the Faculty of Education studied of a group of dedicated and highly accomplished choirboys to better understand the factors at work.
Dr Hall said current programs such as The Voice and Australian Idol appeared to have had little impact on the view, commonly held at schoolboy level, that boys interested in singing were 'girly' or 'queer'.
"So how do these choirboys find ways to resist peer pressure or discouraging cultural messages that say singing is a 'soft option' for boys?" Dr Hall said.
She analysed the strong relationship between choirboys' musical dispositions, their mothers' support and music teachers' practices to develop sociological insights into how musical identities can be formed.
"Early in life children regulate their musical dispositions according to what they think is acceptable for their gender," Dr Hall said.
"The choirboys in the study are extremely proud and passionate about their singing, and they don't see themselves as feminine at all, despite realising this is how others may view them. They realise they have valuable skills that set them apart from others.
"But being a 'different' kind of boy from the norm isn't easy. It takes huge amounts of persistence and emotional resources."
One of the most significant influences in a boy's musical development is his mother's attitude, she found.
"The mothers make great investments in their children's musical education. These are the kinds of investments we more commonly associate with mums and their children's sport," Dr Hall said.
"The choirboys rely on their mothers emotionally to weather the ups and downs it takes to become a high-performing musician."
Supportive music teachers were also crucial: the choirboys in the study all had teachers who encouraged them to sing and empowered them in some way.
"It is not only male teachers who role-model and influence boys' gender identities. Often it's the female teachers who give boys the emotional resources to cope with being a 'different' kind of boy," Dr Hall said.
Dr Hall plans to continue the study of boys' experiences of singing to learn how others from a range of social and cultural backgrounds find ways to pursue their musical aspirations despite the difficulties.
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