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November 21, 2005

Choir of angels heads for film fame

The Sunday Times (UK):

They are prettier than the blokes in The Full Monty, more talented than Billy Elliot and have groovier tunes than Brassed Off. Now the story of the Cantamus girls’ choir from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire looks set to become the next cinema blockbuster in which working-class grit meets the arts. Peter Flannery, who wrote the 1996 television series Our Friends in the North, wants to turn the story of the 43-strong choir of girls aged between 13 and 19 into a film. He said he wanted to portray “the transforming power of art to bring hope and joy to an ailing community”. Led by the indomitable Pamela Cook, with her polite refusal to divulge her age, Cantamus has been going for 37 years, but it is only in its present line-up that its harmonies are becoming famous outside its home town.

Johnnie Walker has raved on his Radio 2 show about the choir’s CD, called Cantamus, released recently by EMI, which includes a version of Coldplay’s Fix You and U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. “There’s a vogue for choral singing in the charts at the moment,” said Ian Brown, a music consultant, who believes Cantamus’s single — a cover version of Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime by the Korgis, released on December 12 — could be the Christmas No 1.

“There are choirs about that are put together, manufactured,” said Brown. “Cantamus are just real. They’ve been going for years, they’re normal girls. It’s what they do on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. If they were from Cambridge you might expect it. But Mansfield?” “We’ve experienced a lot of poverty following the decline of coalmining and heavy industry,” said Cook.

Cantamus needs to raise £100,000 to fund a trip to Xiamen in southern China next year to defend its title of gold medal winner in the World Choir Games, which start on July 15. “The girls are very competitive,” said Cook. “They love it. But there’s a lot more than singing. They learn teamwork, discipline and dedication.” “It’s such a supportive network, like a family,” said Victoria Gray, 18, one of the choir members. She intends to pursue a serious career in music and has already won the Nottinghamshire heat of Young Musician of the Year.

Commitment to the choir — two rehearsals a week, singing lessons with volunteer teachers and learning the music by heart — marks out the girls, who all attend local comprehensive schools, from their peers. “When I was younger I used to wish I could go out on Friday nights,” said 18-year-old Sofia Papadopoulos. “But there’s a special bond with the girls in the choir — and there’ll always be time to go down the pub.” “Being in the choir boosts our self-confidence. There are quite a few pregnancies at my school, but none in the choir,” said Nicola Vardy, 15. “You’re still open to drink and drugs,” said Papadopoulos. “But choir teaches you to value yourself. You think, ‘I don’t have to do that, I’ve got something else’.”

“I’d like to write the story of the choir and what it has meant to Mansfield,” said Flannery. “The point of Cantamus is to get away from the deprivation, depression and drugs and do something with your life. It gives them a sense of purpose and a sense of togetherness. “That’s what I’d like to celebrate. I’m waiting to see if they get to China. Will they successfully defend their title? If not, it’s another film anyway: how singing transforms their lives.”

Posted by acapnews at November 21, 2005 9:15 PM