TV Review: The Choir: Sing While You Work, BBC2


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The Independent Culture

Choirmaster Gareth Malone was a welcome returnee to our screens last night. He's been leading the nation in song since 2006, when we first caught up with him at Northolt High School in Middlesex, corralling a rabble of teenagers into a 30-strong, internationally competitive choir. Since then, he's been creating harmony wherever he goes: at an all-boys school in Leicester, a council estate in Watford, among the wives of the British Army. In that time, the only thing that's really changed about Gareth is his facial hair. Step aside Paxman's beard, there's a new beard in town and it has the teensiest hint of ginger.

The Choir: Sing While You Work follows the same format as last year's show but with five new volunteer organisations: P&O Ferries, Sainsbury's, Birmingham City Council, Citibank and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. The choirs Gareth selects and trains will go on to compete against each other for the title of Best Workplace Choir, but that's by the by. In The Choir it's not the winning, but the taking part that counts.

The show's emphasis on team spirit means it's a bit light on the kind of "characters" who entertain in other reality talent shows. Last night the best P&O could muster was quartermaster Grant, whose deep bass voice held a special fascination for Gareth, "It's like a drain!", and Mercedes, a 22-year-old who told us she'd given up on her singing ambitions when her supportive grandmother passed away a few years ago. (You've taken a wrong turn, Mercedes, love. X Factor auditions are down the hall).

The mid-channel setting did offer an opportunity for a quick game of "Name Your Favourite Nautically Themed Pop Song", while the choir argued over song choice. "Sailing" by Rod Stewart? No, too twee. "In the Navy" by The Village People? Too camp. "Sail Away" by Enya? Too naff. Eventually, they settled on "Rock the Boat" by The Hues Corporation, which is twee, camp and naff. Ideal.

After only a week of practice, the P&O choir performed their song in front of colleagues and nearly had them all in tears. "So emotional," sniffled the HR manager. That's the power of choral music for you. Individually, none of the choir members would make it to the stage in a Wetherspoon's karaoke competition, yet, together, they can transform a cheesy disco number into something almost sacred.