Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Comfort zones

I caught part of The Choir (BBC2 9pm) on Monday night (11/12/06) - in a nutshell, 160-odd kids from Northolt High School (total roll about 1300) in West London audition to join The Phoenix Choir, to enter an international choral competition, the World Choir Games which will take place in China.

Like many choirs, the girls outnumber the boys; they don't have enough Tenors and Basses to balance the Altos and the Sopranos so the conductor, Gareth Malone (who usually conducts the London Symphony Orchestra's Community Choir and Youth Choir), tries to rustle up more interest, but he gets only six new names from asking everyone he sees in the playground.

So he asks the school's music teacher where he's likely to find some hidden talent; she is dismissive - according to her it would be highly unlikely to find any , in all the schools 1300 pupils. Richard is disappointed but not a man to be beaten (well, there wouldn't be a programme if he couldn't find enough singers...) finally, he ventures with some trepidation into the sixth form common room. He coaxes and cajoles several young men into being auditioned. One or two of these 16-18 year olds are pretty confident about their abilities, but in a self-effacing kind of way; surprisingly, most are pretty modest and lacking in confidence - in fact Gareth comments on how much more arrogant he was at their age.

Thankfully though, the school music teacher is mistaken - it's obvious from the auditions that there is a whole host of latent talent at Northolt School, talent which is just waiting to be recognized. Let's hope other teachers don't write off their pupils quite so quickly.

Having got 39 kids in total, these must be whittled down to 25, and 4 reserves to meet the competition rules. It is heartbreaking to see the disappointment of those kids who don't get through the second audition; you have to hope that they have a loving parent /family /friend /teacher to help them pick up the pieces afterwards.

Having spent a few months practising after school, one of the first major tests for the newly formed Phoenix choir is to sing in front of a live audience. These kids are absolutely terrified at the prospect, and even more so when they discover that their first live audience is to be the dreaded Year 11s; the fear that this induces is palpable. But, give them credit, they do their warm up and breathing exercises and give one of their best performances of Vivaldi's Gloria to date. And to give the Year 11s credit too, they soon stop giggling and snickering, they really listen, and give the choir a fantastic round of applause at the end.

What brought a real smile to my face though was the visible increase in the confidence of the kids in the choir when they finish this performance; they seem to have grown a couple of inches in the space of five minutes. They're relieved it's over, yes, but they have just done something they never thought they'd be able to do, they pulled it off, survived and feel more confident as a result. So here I think is an important lesson for all of us - in a nutshell if you want to gain confidence, you have to get out of your comfort zone. The results will be well worth it I promise you.

Watch next week's episode to see how they get on at the World Choir Games.

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