Naked Choirs & Talent Shows

In the past week I have performed on stage alongside Wynne Evans, been introduced by Moira Stuart and interviewed by Alex Lester on the radio. The only thing I failed to do was to get a choir on Gareth Malone’s new show ‘Naked Choir’. Although to be fair the BlueBelles did get through to the final stage of the auditions, but having now seen the show which is airing, I’m glad we didn’t go any further as it’s not really our ‘thing’.

However, for someone like me who claims to be a Choirmaster, I figured I should watch the ‘Naked Choir’, not least just to see if it was everything I thought it would be.   I have every admiration for the choirs who were brave enough to go onto national television.  It is hard enough performing live, but to go onto the television and, in some cases perform in a style clearly outside of your comfort zone, is no mean feat.

One of the most interesting phrases from the opening episode was from Gareth telling one of the choirs to ‘get away from the barbershop style’.  In the context of his show I can see what he meant – for the purposes of television a traditional barbershop choir probably isn’t exciting enough.  The viewers want something along the lines of Glee or Pitch Perfect – or at least that’s what the producers believe they want.

Don’t get me wrong I think some of the groups who can ‘impersonate’ instruments with their voice are incredibly talented and the results are in some cases staggeringly good.  What frustrates me about some of these ‘talent’ shows on the television is they try to put everyone in the same box.  For example, the original brief, as I understood it, for ‘Naked Choir’ was to find the ‘best’ A Cappella choir in the UK.

The term ‘A Cappella’  is from Italian alla cappella ‎which literally translates to ‘in the manner of the chapel’. However, more specifically it is usually thought to refer to the music of the Sistine Chapel.  Of course it’s fair enough to adopt a broader meaning of this for the purposes of making a television programme.  It would seem that being able to impersonate instruments and add ‘beats’ to the music is going to be key in this competition.  Whether this will lead us to the ‘best’ A Cappella choir in the UK remains to be seen.  Personally I always feel the point of any choir is to develop its own style and unique offering.

To have a truly fair and balanced competition for ‘A Cappella’ choirs is, in my view, virtually impossible and therefore doomed to failure.  How can you compare traditional sacred choirs singing renaissance polyphony with barbershop quartets and modern pop orientated groups inspired by Glee and Pitch Perfect?  All of these choirs have a place, and many of the performers within these very different groups, will be incredibly talented.  I certainly wouldn’t know how to choose between them, so I wish Gareth the best of luck in his quest to find Britain’s “most entertaining amateur [a cappella] singing group”.

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Jules Addison is Musical Director for The BlueBellesThe Pewsey BellesCirencester Male Voice Choir & Great Western Harmony