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I'd like to teach the world to sing
( 2003-09-19 08:48) (Shanghai Star)

I wish I had been brought up with karaoke. I think it should be added to the curriculum of every school in England immediately.

From an early age, children should be forced to confront the hideous awkwardness that descends on them when they see a karaoke machine lurking in the corner of the room. Otherwise, when they reach adulthood, they feel that the only way to deal with the threat of karaoke is to seek the assistance of 14 pints of lager.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a Mid-Autumn Festival Banquet (and karaoke) last week with some Chinese colleagues and it was a complete revelation to me. Back home, it is considered at best, rash to attempt karaoke without consuming vast amounts of alcohol first and at worst, attention seeking. And there is no way any British person would ever attempt to sing a song in any language other than English (and most struggle with that after 14 pints of lager).

I was therefore totally surprised, and refreshed, to see people actually enjoying karaoke. It became clear that the whole point of the evening was the karaoke. The food and drink were just incidental and small talk was absolutely not required (or in fact possible, given the volume of the music).

We were there to sing! And the Chinese do love to sing. Not only are they good at it, but they put us to shame by singing English lyrics too. Unlike our small Western contingent, who shrank further into the corner of the room every time the dreaded microphone came anywhere near. If only we had been brought up with karaoke.

I should point out that even if there had been compulsory "double karaoke" lessons every Wednesday afternoon when I was at school (back in the Dark Ages), this probably wouldn't have helped me. I have a simple rule when it comes to singing (similar to the one, in fact that applies to using public toilets): I don't! And in the case of karaoke, this isn't "I don't", as in "I don't want to". It is actually "I can't".

As I explained to my hosts at the banquet, the fact that I don't sing has little to do with any sort of excruciating embarrassment. In fact, my refusal to sing is more out of concern for the welfare of those who would be forced to listen to me politely (well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.).

A diploma in karaoke is, I believe, the answer. And why not make the advanced diploma "international karaoke"? Why shouldn't every British child be able to unashamedly belt out the Chinese, Spanish and German equivalent of the Spice Girls or Boyzone's best hits? (Well, I'm not actually sure that there is a German equivalent of Boyzone. They seem quite happy with David Hasselhof.)

The potential benefits to international relations could be enormous. How much respect would British Prime Minister Tony Blair have commanded in Beijing in July, had he been able to respond to the Tsinghua University students' request for a song with a rendition of a Chinese song he had learned at the International Karaoke Academy?

Instead, as there was no beer in sight, he was forced to ask his wife to rescue him, whilst he stood by with the look of microphone-induced terror that afflicts most Westerners in such a situation. Karaoke school should be compulsory!

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