Can a Choir Make a Difference?

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Back at the tail end of 2006, the BBC showed a programme called The Choir, where Gareth Malone, who runs two choirs for the London Symphony Orchestra, went into Northolt High School and started a choir that he took to the World Choir Games in China. The programme was obviously a success, as starting next Friday he’s taking on a somewhat bigger challenge, in that he’s trying to get a choir together in The Lancaster School in Leicester – an all boys school for The Schools Prom at the Albert Hall. The subtitle for the second series, which is “Boys Don’t Singâ€? sort of gives you an impression of the struggle he’s got.

However, before the new series starts next week, we had a one off retrospective programme last night, that looked back over Gareth’s time with Northolt High School, and also asked the same question that I asked in my post about the programme when it was first shown – what happened next?

The programme inter-cut highlights (and lowlights) from the first series with interviews with some of the participants filmed almost exactly a year later. Interestingly, the person they focused on probably the most was Chloe Sullivan, who got a lot of attention first time around. To be frank Gareth had to make a real effort with her. She regularly missed rehearsals, and was frequently in trouble at school. What is fantastic though is that the effort he put in to get her into the choir, and to get her to China does seem to have made a real difference, to the point where a girl who admitted to being incredibly shy, and struggled to even sing solo at the beginning is now in a job working in a job for Hillingdon that involves giving presentations, something she is shown doing. She also says during her interview that being in the choir has made a big difference to her.

That is an answer that is repeated again and again through all the interviews. For some it’s as simple as the fact that they now have a broader appreciation of music. Many have continued to sing, joining Church choirs and other local choirs. Disappointingly there is no comment about whether Northolt High School have kept the choir going – certainly the impression given from the fact that many of the choir members are still in the school, but are singing elsewhere implies that they didn’t, which is a great pity.

The programme also provided a good few amusing moments, especially when they asked the choir members what they first thought when they saw him – much the same as the rest of us I think:

“You’re not from around here…â€?

and

“He looked about ten!�

both being thoughts that I had. Certainly the impression that he really didn’t know what he was letting himself in for going from volunteer choirs with the London Symphony Orchestra to trying to organise a choir in a large, ethnically diverse comprehensive school in London was very clear to me.

Interestingly, many of the choir members were cringing looking back on their audition pieces. On of the sixth-formers who was featured hoped that a change in hair colour before the programme was broadcast would make a difference – it didn’t. Another of the girls, who has joined another choir and said that her experience has had a major impact in what she wants to do with her life, but did a memorable rendition (with dancing) of Tainted Love says that it is the thing that most people tend to remember about her on the programme.

Ultimately what the programme really serves to highlight is what a difference being in a choir can make to young people and their confidence – and definitely what an opportunity is missed if that possibility is not available. Whilst it’s true that there are other ways, and music doesn’t work for everybody, there are perhaps a number of young people shown on the programme whose lives have been either fundamentally changed, or they have opened their eyes to new possibilities as a result of their experiences in the choir. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing how Gareth copes when presented with the boys of The Lancaster School, a look at the school website gives some clues, but from the preview we got at the end of the programme this week, it certainly looks like it will be hard work…

The programme is available on iPlayer for the next few days if you missed it.

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