Saturday, January 26, 2008

"People who couldn't even spell classical are into it now"

Yesterday, having been warned off the fiddle concerto at the RFH, I spent a happy evening doing something I don't do often: watching TV. Solti fans may know that BBC2 had a documentary about tigers in India...but what caught me off-guard was a follow-up programme to The Choir, a reality TV series following what happened when a choral conductor named Gareth formed a choir at a school in Northolt, north-west London, trained them up and took them to China to enter an international competition. The cameras returned to see where they all are now, as well as recapping on the series for those who'd missed it, like me.

I ended up in tears.

The kids had prepared two numbers for the competition: 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and Faure's 'Cantique de Jean Racine'. Faure?! They were stumped. First, the competition stipulated that one song had to be in a foreign language. Secondly, they just didn't see, when they tried it for the first time, how they could sing this.

Leaving aside the issue of why decent, normal schoolkids from multicultural backgrounds in a city that considers itself the capital of Europe should recoil in horror at the notion of using another language - they did it. They fought and grumbled and one stormed out. But they did it. They learned the Cantique, took it to China and sang it from memory. First, they sang it to their mums, who couldn't believe their ears. At the contest, the choir didn't get through to the second round, but they'd had an experience that moved them to bits and will stay with them forever. None of them had had the first notion of classical music before this. They assumed it was 'a bit boring' and not for them.

And the long-term effects? One, the shy Chloe, had found the confidence to sail out of school into a job that involved giving presentations. She'd found she prefers singing classical music to pop - she couldn't put her finger on why, but said "it feels good" (or something like that). One boy who'd never sung before was at college and wanting to form his own band. A lively blonde missed the choir so much that she went out and joined another. A 13-year-old was now singing in his church choir and loving it. And one boy - the one who'd thrown the tantrum - said: "Even people who couldn't spell classical before are into it now."

Tasmin started her Naked Violin project by wondering what it would take to get music through to people. This programme made clear that one thing it takes is opportunity; another is a little effort, on everyone's parts. The rewards for that effort? Immeasureable.

BBC TV now has an 'iplayer' facility, which I hadn't anticipated using...but you can see programmes online for 7 days after they've been screened. So here is this one.