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June 23, 2008

Choirs are becoming cool

The Times (UK):

There are many things about which the UK claims to be the envy of the world, but when it comes to choirs, the boast is justified. “It’s one of the things the UK truly excels at,” says the choral conductor Suzi Digby. “More than any other country, we have an amazing amateur tradition. We are the only country with a 1,000-year unbroken tradition of cathedral choir schools. It is one of the things we really do well.”

After years of decline, choirs are becoming cool, spurred by the success of the choirmaster Gareth Malone’s award-winning BBC2 series on choirs. There are now more than 25,000 registered in Britain. They make people feel good. “Choirs are the only place where people come together and express a common emotion,” says Digby, who is also passionate about music education. “That’s why football crowds sing and why choirs are incredibly valuable to society in general.”

In a series that will arguably do more to get people singing than the search for Maria, Nancy or Joseph, the BBC is celebrating the power of choirs in a new series, Last Choir Standing. Presented by Myleene Klass and Nick Knowles, and judged by Digby, the singer Russell Watson and the actress Sharon D Clark, it begins with 60 choirs from across the country, whittles them down to 15 for the studio heats, then invites the public to vote on the last six. The last choir standing will be hailed as the nation’s favourite choir.

Choirs have not always been sexy. “There was this idea that if you were going off to choir practice, you were a sad loser,” Digby says. “People also get a psychological block about singing. Parents say their children can’t, siblings laugh – it doesn’t take much for it all to shut down.” Yet the lung-filling, oxygen-pumping experience is so good at producing a serotonin-fuelled buzz that the Labour peer, No 10 adviser and “happiness tsar”, Richard Layard, recommends joining one for the feelgood factor alone.

The competition’s choirs could not be more varied: a group of hip-hop street kids, struggling to hang on to a musical director long enough to keep the choir together; disabled singers from Northern Ireland; and a kilted a cappella student band from St Andrews, which gets up to 50 coming along to auditions. Some of the choirs are predominantly female. “It’s hard to hang on to men. They prefer to be soloists,” says Perry Alleyne-Hughes, a 55-year-old maths teacher and the musical director of an a cappella group, Sense of Sound. Equally, the Hereford Police Male Choir will not accept ladies. “We’d never live it down in Wales,” says its secretary, Brian Williams. Composed of police and “people known to the police,” which, in this context, means solid citizens such as undertakers, lawyers and doctors, this choir vets members lest villains or arrestees try to exploit their choir connections.

Article continues here.

Posted by acapnews at June 23, 2008 10:18 PM

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