Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The thing that Gareth really has to fight against in "The Choir"

I watched most of The Choir last night. I've never seen the beginning of this programme but I've seen the end of it lots of times, so successfully does it sink its hooks into me. The current series is about Gareth's efforts to encourage the locals to sing in South Oxhey, an unpromising overspill estate near Watford. He has some success, thanks as ever to some middle-aged women who are among nature's joiners, a few kids who are genuinely keen on music (and being on TV), a smattering of people using the choir as a way to ward off personal crises and a few charismatic locals who have been frogmarched to rehearsals so that the producers can depict their "personal journey".

The refuseniks refuse on the grounds that people like them (i.e. working class people) don't turn up and sing in choirs. This is patently untrue. In the north of England and in Wales and probably in other parts of Britain there's a long tradition of working class people doing precisely that. But thanks to some combination of social atomisation and the dictatorship of cool the people of South Oxhey have come to believe that these things are not for them, that their role in life is to work, raise kids and watch TV. In each programme Gareth's biggest obstacle is not their lack of musical aptitude or interest. It's their crippling English self-consciousness.


  1. Paul K9:44 am

    Isn't there a much bigger issue here about a common attitude towards singing?

    We now, thanks largely to talent shows, divide people cleanly into those who can and can't sing. (It's noticeable on the current series of X Factor that there are very few split decisions by the judging panel - it's unanimously "yes" or "no".) If you "can" sing, then you'll be a star, if you "can't", then you will be laughed or booed off stage.

    Yet for me, one of the joys of a football match is singing, albeit raucously, with a bunch of like-minded people. It's tremendously uplifting. And now I see that Martha Lane Fox has opened a karaoke place in Islington where people can sing in private rooms, with their friends, rather than to a roomful of strangers.

    Something about the spirit of communal singing, with like-minded supportive people, whether in choirs, football crowds or karaoke, is surviving in the English culture. I do hope it outweighs the solo superstar ethic of TV talent shows, which must put so many people off.

  2. This has been a superb series so far, with the inevitable transition from not interested to actually we're quite good at this. It will be interesting to see a follow-up in five years or so to see if they maintain any choir-life without the cameras around.

  3. At friend's father's funeral recently I was almost knocked over (physically and emotionally) by the wave of sound that hit us from as an entire Welsh chapel started sing "bread of heaven". I have come across this problem working with kids a sort of pathlogical unwillingness to try something outside a narrow band of experience it's at times infuriating.
    It's strange as homegenity can breed great singing in wales and elsewhere and yet can stiffle people in other towns.

  4. Susan Soutar6:17 pm

    I think a good measure of just how powerful the experience of hearing massed voices can be, is the fact that I just got goosebumps (and a small snifle) from merely reading about BLTP's experience.

    I was never a fabulous singer and far too shy (or perhaps not desparate enough for attention) to sing solo, but I used to sing in the Glasgow Youth Choir. Run by a scary old woman, Miss Hoey (always Miss, we would have been struck down had we called her Agnes), it gave me some of the most uplifting moments of my teenage years.