For the last few weeks I have found myself gripped to the edge of my seat whilst watching 12 random strangers perform witchcraft before my eyes. By mixing together a few eggs, some flour and other magical substances they attempt to create structures made of cake in order to please Paul and Mary. Yes, I of course refer to the Great British Bake Off.
As many of my readers will know from previous posts, I rather like a nice piece of cake. It turns out that I am not alone. Around 10 million of us every week tune in to watch other people make cakes, biscuits, bread and a selection of baked delights. In fact I heard via the home service that possibly such viewing figures make the Bake Off one of the most popular television shows currently being aired. As a direct result of this success, the BBC have decided to cash in and sell the whole thing to ‘the other side’.
Similar to the fiasco over Top Gear last year, this doesn’t appear to have gone well. In fact to the untrained eye it would appear that Channel 4 have paid approximately £75 million for a tent and some food mixers. Pretty much all the presenters have since buggered off and I suspect the ‘new’ Bake Off will end up being nothing more than a food fight on a camp site. Then again, this will probably fit nicely alongside the rest of Channel 4’s lineup which, from what I can tell, is nothing more than a series of dating shows and unheard of ‘celebrities’ being stuck on an deserted island. I fully expect the new show to be entitled ‘Baked Date’ or something equally hideous.
For me, the most entertaining element of the current Bake Off format is the ‘Showstopper’. As you all know this is the part where everyone gets to show off their baking skills and create a masterpiece which even Paul Hollywood is vaguely impressed by. Invariably these creations end in disaster. Gingerbread Houses fall over, 12 tier cakes end up in a pile of crumbs and anything even vaguely elegant, suffers from a soggy bottom.
What amuses me most is that contestants are given the chance to practice these bakes at home and have a reasonable amount of freedom with the design. Despite this, most ‘showstoppers’ end up being anything but. I can see why. Ultimately it’s a competition and contestants clearly want to create the most stunning thing they can. But the best ‘showstopper’ is not always the tallest or most delicately crafted cake.
Quoting the Bake off contestant Howard Middleton from 2015 “When I’ve done this previously, people were quite impressed. Yeah. It’s like, “Wow!” That was my mum and dad, though.”
Sometimes therefore, as occurred a few weeks ago with the ‘shiny icing’ showstopper, it is the simple creation that wins the day.
And this is exactly the policy I follow when choosing music for my choirs. I’ve only once entered a choir into a competition – in fact it was Choir of the Year. There was no particular aim in doing so other than to have fun and give the group a challenge. As a result we didn’t try to perform Spem in Alium with just 8 singers, but instead chose a couple of songs which were well established in the repertoire. Of course a few extra rehearsals were had, but essentially we just turned up, sang something relatively simple and as a result got straight through to the next round. The same is true when planning concerts. Most of my choirs learn a set repertoire which is then used ‘on tour’ for at least 6 months at various events. In the majority of cases the audiences will be different at each event so repeating songs is never much of an issue.
The moral of the story? Keep it simple. Do it well.
Jules Addison is Musical Director for Blue Notes, The BlueBelles, Cirencester Male Voice Choir, Great Western Harmony and The Pewsey Belles.