Sunday, August 17, 2008

Will the last choir standing please turn out the light?

Since it’s the summer holidays here, my contact with singing and choirs has been somewhat limited (I’m not one of those people who sing around the house all the time – especially when I’m on holiday myself!). I’ve been listening to some CDs for pleasure (and not work!) for a change, and also watching TV (too much for my own good!). Despite my best intentions, I have been following BBC One’s Last Choir Standing.

Putting aside my earlier reservations (Singing competitions are for losers) about it simply being a typical Saturday evening light entertainment show in the mould of Strictly Come Dancing, it does seem to have captured the nation’s imagination. Actually, I’m assuming that it has because I don’t have the viewing figures to hand, nor are we told how many people actually bother to phone in and vote. For all we know, most of the country is away on holiday and it’s only me and the guy next door who actually watches it! Mind you, if the viewing figures dropped dramatically, I imagine they would shift the programme to a later slot or onto BBC Two.

So far we have been subjected to very typical big choirs, all of which (to my mind) have been coarse, simplistic and samey. And at the other extreme, a few small, very upbeat gospel choirs. So far all the boxes of what the general public imagines a ‘choir’ to be have been ticked (including the awful professional singing in the breaks which have been middle-of-the-road easy-listening opera-lite with plenty of wobbly voices).

We’ve also had our fair share of choral ‘choreography’ (from ‘moving in time to the music’ to ‘general hand waving’ to ‘dancing about a bit’). Interestingly, despite what I’ve said in earlier posts (What are you looking at?) about wanting to watch something as well as just listening to the singing, some choirs have been moving so much that I’ve been shouting at the TV for them to “just stand still for a bloody moment so I can focus on what you’re singing!”. Clearly there is a balance between standing still like a stuffed animal with a stiff upper lip, and jigging around all over the place.

I’m sure this series will do a lot to encourage people to take up singing (again) and to join choirs. At least I hope they do. Many of us who run choirs hope to be inundated by new members in the autumn. The only reason that this may not happen is if viewers feel that the choirs they see on TV are so good that they couldn’t possibly do as well themselves. Shame.

It does worry me slightly though what will happen when the series is over. Will the BBC have any kind of follow-through to maintain the momentum of the interest that they’ve generated? Or will the last choir standing just turn the lights out and everything will go dark? Perhaps part of the solution is the website which I hope they will continue to update.

The website which accompanies the series seems quite slick. There are several opportunities for viewers to air their views, most of which seem rather uninformed and simplistic. I was rather interested in the The Great Choir Debate (nothing like a bit of BBC hype!) which poses 10 questions about choirs and singing. I’m going to list them here and will be returning to them in later posts.

In the meantime, it would be great to hear from some of you (anyone out there?). What do you think of the TV programme? Do you have any answers to the questions below? Do you agree with the ‘experts’ comments on the website? So come on all you lurkers out there, put finger to keyboard and have a go!

  1. Good indicators
    What’s the one thing an untrained person can look for in a choir that indicates how good they are?
  2. Singing benefits
    Are there any surprising benefits from singing in a choir?
  3. Choir fashion
    What should a choir wear, and should points be deducted if they look terrible?!
  4. Song selection
    Is there anything a choir shouldn’t sing?
  5. Singing at school
    Should singing be compulsory in schools?
  6. Singing ability
    Can anybody sing in a choir?
  7. Choreography
    Should choirs include ‘choreography’ in their performance?
  8. Competitions
    Is the world of choral singing competitive?
  9. Conductors
    Is there anything conductors do that sets the alarm bells ringing?
  10. Choir size
    How many people does it take to make a choir?

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Chris Rowbury


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