1 February 2008
Choirmaster Gareth Malone
wants to re-instill the love of public singing back into teen-aged boys, who have reached a stage in their life where it is not seen as being fashionable. Starting in April 2007, Gareth conducts a nine-month experiment at Lancaster Boys School in Leicester: have a 100-strong boys choir sing credibly by the end of the project. There is a strong academic and sports program at Lancaster, but only a fledgling music program in which there is no singing at all. He learns that there once was a thriving music program at the school which included a choir, but which faded away in the 1980's. Going in, Gareth realizes the enormous challenge he is facing. To achieve his goal, he believes the most amenable students will be the ten in the existing music program. He finds that even they are apprehensive. In roaming around the school, he finds no boys, beyond a clique of schoolyard rappers (who both Gareth and boys themselves don't see what they do as singing), who would admit in public to their friends the want to sing. One of those rappers, Imran Siddique
, Gareth learns does sing well. Gareth and Imran begin what is a sometimes supportive and sometimes rocky teacher/student relationship. Gareth also feels that the support of the staff, especially who he sees as the alpha male teachers to who the boys look up, is key to success. Another way he sees to get singing back into the school's consciousness is to have group singing at the daily assemblies. To spread the word about singing, Gareth manages to make singing a mandatory class. He meets resistance from a number of students. Regardless, Gareth, who has made both individual and group efforts in recruitment, feels prepared to have an official choir sign up one month into his tenure. The sign up has the potential of no one showing up. To prepare himself mentally for the challenge, Gareth visits Guildford County School, where there is an established choral music program, especially amongst the boys.
8 February 2008
Close to 200 boys signed up for the choir, but only half show up for the initial rehearsal. Still, Gareth is buoyed by the turnout. The challenges Gareth now faces are dealing with a mixture of boys whose voices have not yet changed and those whose voices have changed, and bringing those two aspects together into one cohesive choir. He is most concerned about keeping the younger boys, who he fears will be ridiculed for sounding like girls. As weeks pass, Gareth has another challenge of maintaining energy level and concentration amongst the boys, who are not used to extended focus. He decides with six weeks remaining in the term to throw the boys into the deep end by having them perform at the Summer Show, a paid event for teachers and parents at term's end. This concert is important as the first public performance for the choir. Gareth wants to place the choir in its best light while realizing what their capabilities are. He is surprised at the enthusiasm the boys show in volunteering for the two solos. To support singing at the school, Gareth also believes the teachers need to lead by example. As such, Gareth starts a staff choir. He wants to recruit as many teachers as possible, but specifically those who have the most "alpha male" influence, namely those in the physical education department, and Head of Grades 9 & 10, Alex Foreman
. Gareth won't get a self-professed non-singing Mr. Foreman into the choir without a fight. But Gareth has a special weapon up his sleeve hopefully to convince Mr. Foreman.
15 February 2008
Because of the success of the choir's performance at the Summer Show, Gareth feels the boys need another goal to improve. His choice of performance venue is the Music for Youth prom held every November at Royal Albert Hall, the prom which showcases the best of youth music in Britain. The issues are that the deadline has already past for application to perform, and it is a by invitation only event. Gareth appeals to the prom's executive, who allow the choir to audition. Although the non-audition Lancaster School choir is not up to the standards of the other musical acts already chosen, the prom also is a venue to showcase educational aspects of music. Beyond preparing the boys for the audition - it being the first time the boys will have ever been evaluated critically as a choir, and the first time they will hear other more established and polished choirs sing - Gareth has another challenge in that he is required to bring the numbers up to 100 if chosen to perform; the current choir has only 60 boys. With the summer break, he decides to recruit from the new students coming into the school from the primary years. But Gareth also has to factor in attrition, not only of the boys graduating, but also those that have lost interest. He also wants to involve the school rappers in the singing program, whether it be in the formal choir or in a group as their own. Gareth brings in some assistance in trying to convince the rappers, who are an influential peer group within the school. By the time the boys' final audition arrives for the Music for Youth prom, Gareth has them sing what may seem an unconventional choice of music.
22 February 2008
After having passed the audition for the choir to perform at the Music for Youth event at the Royal Albert Hall, Gareth wants to inspire the boys and takes them to listen to and rehearse with Cambridge University's King's College Choir, arguably one of the best and oldest boy's choirs in all of England. Gareth also has some decisions to make, namely what to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. To show the diversity of the choir, he decides on one classical piece - "Ombra Mai Fu", their audition piece - and one popular piece, "Stand By Me", in which he intends on showcasing not only the boy's choir, but also the teacher's choir and the school rappers. Also with "Stand By Me", he decides to have a soloist from within the boy's choir perform. Gareth holds auditions in the presence of head teacher, Paul Craven
, and head of music teacher, Helen Collins
- the successful boy chosen for his ability to sing alone in front of a large and music-knowledgeable audience. Beyond the enormity of the Royal Albert Hall event itself, Gareth has time and illness working against him.
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