Tiffany Jenkins: Singing the praises of an inspirational piece of TV entertainment

IT'S not often that you want to watch reality television, let alone sing its praises. Nor is it common to find a good programme on culture. So, to get the two-in-one show is cause for celebration.

This week, BBC 2 aired the final episode of The Choir: Unsung Town, a four-part series that hit the right note and was worth watching.

The show centred on a young choirmaster, Gareth Malone, as he worked hard to create a choir in an area that has heard little of music education or community sing-a-longs.

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Malone has form: he has produced vocalists in the most unlikely of places and can even persuade boys to be soloists.

This series focused on his attempts to build a large community choir and one for children in South Oxhey; a run-down post-war suburb of Watford.

He was invited in by the local minister, the Rev Pam Wise, who complains that residents have to leave the area to encounter any art.

It's a poor community, where they feel abandoned and there is little to do other than go to the shops or the pub. Malone's aim is to bring residents together and get them singing, which is not as easy as it sounds.

The locals agree that something needs to be done, but are unconvinced that a choir will do the trick. Most people Malone encounters say they hate singing and he hears a chorus of no when he invites them to join in.

After considerable perseverance, karaoke, and by working with the leader of a boxing club, a large adult choral group is formed, and one for the kids.

Listening to them reminded me just how joyful and life-

affirming singing can be. It would be hard to find anywhere on earth where the locals do not sing together in some form and yet today it has become over- specialised, something that only a few take part in. That needs to change. We should all break into song.

The Choir: Unsung Town was more than just a pleasure to watch; there are lessons to be learned. For a start, there aren't many reality television shows where people are encouraged to engage with something that is difficult but transformative.

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Unlike Changing Rooms, How to Look Good Naked, or the nasty X Factor, the process the community goes through does not mean reupholstering their home furnishings, changing their wardrobes, selling-out, or public humiliation.

Instead of treating people as if they are stupid and can only hum along to what they know, Malone pushes them, taking the vocalists into unfamiliar territory with unknown pieces.

Rather than patronising or flattering them, he makes the singers execute technically challenging classical music. He forces them to do it in Latin as well as German, and arranges for them to perform in public alongside accomplished musicians.

By raising their aspirations, he encourages them to take themselves seriously, so they are respected as a real choir. This is a different ambition to most television today, which makes fun of ordinary people and diminishes their dreams.

It is also different to the teaching today, where children are told to stick with the easy and familiar, or only encouraged to do it to make money or to be famous.

These children are more than capable of singing well for pleasure. After a bit of resistance, they embrace the challenge. After struggling, they perform a demanding piece of music to a high level, sounding like angels.

The Choir succeeds because it demands more from people than usual and it builds confidence and talent as a consequence, and that is worth applauding.

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