Tag Archives: Gareth Malone

The Choir – Boys Do Sing

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So perhaps rather as expected, last night the second series of The Choir concluded with Gareth triumphantly leading his choir to sing on stage at the Royal Albert Hall.

Having said that, there were differences between the conclusion here and what happened at the end of the first series. Watching the retrospective of the first series a few weeks ago it was apparent that once Gareth had gone, the choir had disbanded. Members were carrying on singing, but the school hadn’t continued.

This time around there was explicit focus on getting a music culture into the school, so we saw a gathering of the school governors where pupils described there experiences. In this weeks and last weeks episode the headmaster of the school featured much more prominently, indeed even taking part in the audition process for soloists, and attending the final performance. Also right the way through the programme the head of Music has been featured, and she too had her own big moment as Gareth asked her to conduct for part of the final performance – where she looked as nervous as the people in the choir.

Time will tell I guess, but I am certainly looking forward to an equivalent retrospective and to see where music has gone within the Lancaster School following the work done by Gareth in the programme.

As an example of how far they have come in nine months, here is a YouTube clip of their final performance. Remember this school had no choir at all nine months before this was filmed…

Epiphany

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We’ve carried on watching The Choir over the past couple of weeks, and although it’s been enjoyable, and it’s great to see the progress, the programme has followed a familiar path with Gareth pulling together a choir. Although it’s been frustrating at times, Gareth himself summed it up pretty well this week when he said that it’s pretty straightforward to pull a choir together with a good group of interested boys.

However, his stated aim is not only to get a good choir, but to get a ‘singing school’. Back in the first episode he had a notable failure with Imran, one of the boys who although he had a great voice, was part of the playground MC’s, a group of boys who beatbox and rap, and are obviously pretty musically talented, but have no interest in the sort of conventional music that Gareth is exploring with the choir.

This week though came a breakthrough. In order to try and get the MC’s interested, he brought them along to a workshop run by Sense of Sound (you can also hear more of their music on their Myspace Page), and watching the faces of the boys – especially Imran – was great. Sense of Sound although being a choir, blended the kind of beatboxing techniques the boys were using, and really piqued their interest. They followed that up with starting another choir at the school following the kind of style that Sense of Sound had demonstrated – getting boys were were otherwise disconnected from the new singing culture in the school connected, and getting Imran to actually sing.

The fundamental point it underlines is that you need to be clear whether you are trying to get music into the lives of young people, or your kind of music into their lives. It somewhat echoes with the announcement earlier in the week that schoolchildren were being promised ‘quality culture’. Having heard the announcement, the real danger in that is although you interest some, it is very easy to disconnect others by labelling their kind of music, art or whatever as not ‘quality culture’. What the programme last night showed was that if you make an effort to connect with their culture, rather than trying to shoehorn kids into your culture, you actually get somewhere, and the young people go from the singing is boring, to actually singing and taking part.

If you missed the programme, or want to enjoy it again, you can watch on BBC iPlayerSense of Sound appear in a sequence that begins about 35 minutes in.

Boys Don’t Sing – Or Do They?

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Last night was the first part of the second series of The Choir – subtitled “Boys Don’t Singâ€?. The format was slightly different from the first series last year in that rather than coming in purely to lead the choir, this time Gareth Malone was actually joining the staff of the school. The school itself was somewhat different, being one of the largest single sex comprehensive schools in the country, The Lancaster School in Leicester.

The exact details of how he came to be invited to The Lancaster School are not explained – although he is met on arrival by the head of Music at the school, and the commentary does say that she has been trying and failing to get a choir off the ground before. What is interesting is to note that it wasn’t always like that in the school. A long standing member of staff shows Gareth some old pictures of various school choirs – and highlights that assemblies at the school used to include singing, but that was stopped sometime in the mid-eighties when the school grew and the music staff (who played the piano for the singing) became form tutors. That comment did actually get me thinking, and realising that when I was at school, and we sang a hymn in the lower school assembly we had a music teacher play – so perhaps Rickmansworth also didn’t allocate a form to the music teachers.

There were definitely some amusing moments, in particular the point where the music teacher shows Gareth some of the stuff that happens musically in the school – just watch his expression during some of those sequences. He also challenges the head of year nine and ten, very definitely an alpha male within the school community, prior to telling the whole staff that in order to achieve the goal of forming a choir, it needs backing from the teachers. Thinking again about my school, we always had a number of staff, including the headmaster in the choir, and indeed a number of them would participate in the school productions too.

Although he looked mightily nervous at times, Gareth did seem to fairly swiftly work out a plan of action, starting with the GCSE music class, and moving on from there. As before he seems very determined, and driven by the belief that being able to sing is an opportunity that all young people should have. Certainly a belief I share. As with the programme last year there were people who liked singing but were keeping it quiet, but who seemed to find the increased acceptability of singing in the school as an opportunity to come out of their shells somewhat. Equally there were other students who despite being talented, proved to be troublesome, and a source of headaches for Gareth.

Perhaps the biggest counterpoint to the testosterone fuelled attitude that seemed to be being portrayed, that singing was for girls, and that boys did sports, was towards the end of the programme, where Gareth took the step of launching the choir. The trailer only showed the very beginning of that sequence – Gareth sitting in an empty hall. What it didn’t show was that 170 students, about a tenth of the whole school population, turned up to sign up for the choir. Boys don’t sing? Maybe that’s the impression – but about ten percent of the population of that school do, or at least want to learn.

If you missed the programme, it can be found for the next few days on the BBC iPlayer.

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.

The Choir

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Over the past three weeks I’ve been avidly watching The Choir on BBC2. The series followed Gareth Malone, who currently runs two choirs for the London Symphony Orchestra, taking a choir to the fourth World Choir Games in China. However it wasn’t one of his LSO choirs that he took, instead he put together, from scratch, a choir at Northolt High School, a school that didn’t appear to have much of a musical tradition if any. Essentially he was taking young people whose main singing experience was singing along with R & B tracks, and getting them singing in four part harmony – all in the space of nine months.

Now I have to say, watching the first episode, they were bad, really bad. The simple reason being that even if you’ve had musical training, getting used to singing four part harmony is hard, couple with that the fact that the majority of the tenor and bass lines were struggling with recently broken voices and it is even more difficult. The qualification CD was produced after only seven rehearsals, and although it wasn’t great in comparison to an experienced choir, after seven weeks was impressive. I do have a definite suspicion that the accompanying application highlighted that point in order to get through, certainly the nerves about the prospect of not qualifying seemed entirely genuine – there were real doubts whether they would even get in. It was also very interesting to note that until they were stood on the side of the stage in China, they had never actually heard their competition – I expect if they had things might have been different, with much more fear and doubt over their abilities.

Having said that, tonight in the final episode, we saw the last few weeks of highly stressful rehearsals, where right up to the last minute the tenors were having problems getting their line, and their appearance at the games in China – only their second public performance, their first being in front of friends and family at the school. Not surprisingly they didn’t make it past the first round in the competition. There were some spectacular and much more experienced Choirs there, but from the part of the performance of the Northolt Choir that was shown they gave a superb performance, and certainly did not let themselves down – even performing Fauré’s Cantique De Jean Racine in French.

Unfortunately at the end of the programme there wasn’t any details of what has happened since the games in the summer, so I’m not sure whether the choir has been disbanded, whether Gareth is still going into the school or what. Hopefully, they have benefited from the experience, and are continuing singing. The most I’ve found is this item from the Daily Mail which mentions that Chloe Sullivan, one of the alto line who had a record of absenteeism, and indeed regularly missed early rehearsals, has gone on from the programme to join a gospel choir in Harrow, and has even begun a music production course. Hopefully if the series has been a success we can look forward to seeing how the choir members lives have changed as a result of their experience.