Tag Archives: World Choir Games

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.