sat 19/09/2020

The Choir: Singing for Britain, BBC Two review - the pandemic versus the power of song | reviews, news & interviews

The Choir: Singing for Britain, BBC Two review - the pandemic versus the power of song

The Choir: Singing for Britain, BBC Two review - the pandemic versus the power of song

Gareth Malone's music therapy from the frontline

'Written in the heat of battle': Gareth Malone in his musical laboratory

Singing in a choir can be terrific therapy for anxiety, depression or loneliness, but one of the cruellest effects of the coronavirus is the way it has restricted normal human interaction.

Singing in a choir can be terrific therapy for anxiety, depression or loneliness, but one of the cruellest effects of the coronavirus is the way it has restricted normal human interaction. The notion of social distancing might have been designed to sabotage the proximity and togetherness which is so much a part of collective singing.

However, choir supremo Gareth Malone (now sporting a shaggy lockdown hairstyle) doesn’t give up easily, so he’s made the best of what technology has to offer to create an online facsimile of the choir-singing experience. He’s the first to admit that hooking up a lot of singers via tablets and computers is a poor substitute for the real thing – and looking ahead, he fears that “there is an existential crisis for many choirs” – but after successfully launching his Great British Home Chorus on YouTube, he now brings us Singing for Britain (BBC Two).

The plan was to pick solo singers or small groups and encourage them to create their own songs about their experiences during the pandemic, and in this first episode he was recruiting from care workers and the NHS. Malone has an instinct for talent-spotting that most record company A&R persons would envy, and he’d found three patently talented performers who now might conceivably find themselves wondering which career path to pursue.

From Hamilton in Lanarkshire, he’d picked William (pictured above), a dementia care worker, who’s gifted with a roof-raising singing voice beefy enough to intimidate some of history’s great soul-men. As he explained, it’s his musical passion that helps him cope with the terrible stuff he sees in his job, which has recently included many deaths in the care home where he works, as well as both himself and his parents catching the virus. However, he bounced back, and demonstrated that he can write songs as well as sing them, rapidly coming up with the theme and lyrics for a hymn-like piece about caring and coping.

He had strong competition from 20-year-old Hannah, a trainee critical care nurse in Cambridge who has a parallel life as a singer-songwriter. She was soon batting around ideas for lyrics with Malone, on themes of “accepting what is, there is always tomorrow, only ever look back to see how far you’ve come.”

Malone shrewdly paired Hannah with Sara (pictured right), a Cardiff-based junior doctor with an exuberant soul-gospel voice which seems to have brushed the hem of Aretha Franklin. Malone, who has found ingenious technical fixes to keep multiple participants perfectly synchronised even if they’re afflicted with dodgy wi-fi, staged a virtual performance in which Hannah and Sara performed their new song like showbiz veterans. “It comes direct from the front line, written in the heat of battle,” marvelled Malone, who seemed a little overawed by what they’d collectively created. Take that, coronavirus!

Malone seemed a little overawed by what they’d collectively created

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