“I love to hear a choir. I love the humanity to see the faces of real people devoting themselves to a piece of music. I like the teamwork. It makes me feel optimistic about the human race when I see them cooperating like that.” Paul McCartney
Have I mentioned that I have never seen a single reality show? Yup, I deny the entire genre. Until now. I've broken my own ban to watch the BBC series The Choir. It’s a cinema verite/reality show, with lots of “real” footage edited down to a constructed, voiced-over narrative.
The premise is that a young, talented, elite music director (in that he’s a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music) Gareth Malone starts a choir at a London middle school-—yes, teenagers--that has never had a choir. It’s a daunting task, looking for the modicum of talent that will be able to perform basic choir repertory. And don’t underestimate the power of schools that have a tradition of choirs versus those that don’t. Around the world there are schools that take singing very seriously, and that itself fosters talent. When it’s cool to sing in your microcosm, no good voice gets left behind.
The Choir is a great series because it captures the individual stories of the teens who take this on with no formal music training. One caveat: you have to be able to bear the opening motif to Vivaldi’s Gloria ad nauseum (they use it as a bumper between almost every scene!).
Not only does Malone start a choir, he takes it to the “choir Olympics” in China. That’s kind of crazy, thinking that this makeshift choir could possibly compete with world-class choirs, but for the teens from Northolt High it’s truly the opportunity of their young lifetimes. And that’s Malone’s real goal: to show youth that classical music is not some boring, old thing, but a vibrant scene that can enrich their lives for the rest of their lives.
To compete the choir needs to sing something in a foreign language. He chooses Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, a choir chestnut. (And, for fans of the film Babe, it’s what the sisters are singing when the Farmer is watching TV.) The tenors are stumbling and Malone dubs them “problematic tenors,” thus uniting them with their pitch brethren the world over. In their defense the inner voices—tenor and alto-- are harder to “hear” and sing.
The choir’s other piece is “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which they do well with. But it’s them singing “I get by with a little help from my friends” during a team building weekend that got me teary-eyed. There’s something about young Brits singing the songs of Lennon and McCartney that’s just so damn wonderful.
Malone has already done more shows, The Choir: Revisited, The Choir: Boys Don't Sing, The Choir: Unsung Town, which I haven't seen, bringing more and more people into the fold.
And he went on (from The Independent):
"Malone, credited with leading a nationwide revival of community singing through his television series, topped the charts with the Military Wives, the choir he formed from the partners of serving military personnel in Afghanistan."
The Malone Invasion
Now I see commercials while watching Suits and Burn Notice that Gareth is coming to the USA on USANetworks. I'm not loving this. His choral tradition is not ours. I fear that what is charming in his homeland will devolve into trite US whacky characters by the light of UK platitudes. To keep the integrity of the original I would rather have the current director of the Whiffenpoofs or the choirmaster of a Broadway show search out nonsingers and produce a concert. The production company that's bringing the series over produces Supernanny, TRHONY, Bethenny Ever After, and Basketball Wives. So that already speaks to a certain crass perspective.
Yes, I am a choral snob. But, if it brings one more viewer to join a local chorus or choir, then there's no argument.