Tag Archives: The Lancaster School

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.