How a Choir Works


How a Choir Works

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From the beginning. Total enunciation.

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# I work all night

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# I work all day to pay the bills... #

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Yeah! Lovely! Smash it!

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# Ain't it sad... #

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Choirs are my passion.

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# ..they never seem to be... #

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And have been all my life.

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# That's too bad... #

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For me, they're the ultimate instrument,

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capable of incredible subtlety.

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Lovely. Really, lovely.

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Huge complexity.

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It needs to be blended.

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And powerful emotion.

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# Oooh-oooh

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# Oooh-oooh

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# Ooh, yeah, ooh, yeah... #

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I could do that all day.

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But there are secrets that lie behind a fantastic choral sound

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that reveal how a choir works.

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I want to show you what those secrets are.

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# ..wind blows... #

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One, two, three and...

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# Stand by...

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My name's Gareth Malone and I've been obsessed with singing since

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I was a child.

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One more time. One, two, three and...

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I joined my first choir when I was just nine

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and I went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

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And...

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CHOIR SINGS

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As a conductor in schools and communities,

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I try to spread my love for choral music to as many people as possible.

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It's really got the rhythm, guys!

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CHORAL MUSIC

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Today, my mission continues.

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-Morning.

-Morning.

-I'm here to work with BBC singers.

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I'm going to explore some of my favourite pieces with one of

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my favourite choirs - the BBC singers.

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It's 10.15am and it's Maida Vale, Studio 2. A beautiful room.

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HE PLAYS THE PIANO

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I want to look at all the different aspects of choirs.

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It's hard to separate things out but

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there's harmony and polyphony and volume

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and the different parts of the choir.

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I want to take each one and rip it apart and put it back together again

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so that people can understand how complicated choirs actually are.

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They are simple when you listen to it.

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It can sound like the sound just came together.

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But there is a lot of detail and a lot of time put into making

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these sounds blend together.

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Good morning.

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Hello. Good morning.

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Good morning!

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The idea of today is to lift the bonnet of the choir

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and look at the engine and see how it works.

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# Goldfinger

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# Ba-ba, ba

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# Da-da, da-da, da

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# He's the man... #

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I want to start with the basics.

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Fundamental to all great choirs is the range and variety

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of the human voice.

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# Only gold

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# He loves go-o-o-old. #

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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CHOIR SINGS

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With these singers, you have 24 virtuoso voices joining together

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to make a magnificent sound.

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# Amen

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# Ah-h-h-h... #

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It all looks so easy.

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# Amen. #

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Right. You can't make the sort of sound that you all make

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without an element of training.

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I thought it would be really good to demonstrate this to ask...

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We're gonna have a competition.

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To get an idea of what the voice can do,

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I've recruited a member of the production team.

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-Have you ever had a singing lesson?

-No.

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Completely new to this.

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OK. Freddie, without doing anything painful, or damaging yourself,

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would you like to give us a large note without...

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Don't shout but let's hear what you've got.

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# Aaahhhhhhh. #

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That's pretty good.

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There's a voice there.

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Can I have... I think, probably, a bass?

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Would you stand next to him?

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-Would you like to see if you could match that volume?

-Yes.

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# Aaaahhhhh. #

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Do you think you can go a notch higher than that?

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# Aaahhhhh. #

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# Aahhhhhhhhh. #

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Can you go any louder?

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HE FAILS TO HIT THE NOTE

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Ow! That sounded pretty... Was that painful?

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THEY SING IN THEIR NATIVE TONGUE

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The thing about most choirs is

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they sing without amplification.

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The type of singing required,

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is a kind of singing that's very connected to the body

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and connected to the ground.

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THEY SING IN THEIR NATIVE TONGUE

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With volume, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking,

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"I'm just gonna smash it."

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It doesn't work like that.

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You've got to be relaxed and... HE BREATHES IN

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..let more space come and have the right sort of vocal cavity

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and have all these muscles engaged.

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If you're super-tense and gritting, you try and make

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a big sound but not a loud sound.

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Let's have that G again.

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PIANIST PLAYS G

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# Aaaaaaahhh. #

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# Aaaaaahhhhhh. #

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Much better.

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Already better. Try and do it again with more of a yawn.

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HE YAWNS

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# Aaaaaahhhhh. #

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Yeah. That's good!

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There's a bit of push in there, isn't there?

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Yeah. It's much better. You opened your mouth wider as well

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-and relaxed your jaw, which also helps.

-It made a difference.

-Yeah.

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CHOIR SINGS

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The range of the human voice is what makes choirs so versatile.

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When it comes to the power of choral voices,

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one piece in particular never ceases to impress me.

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Mahler's Second Symphony, the Resurrection Symphony. Erm...

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I've chosen this piece because it shows,

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demonstrates clearly the huge range of volume

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that a choir is capable of producing.

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The great thing about Mahler Two is that you wait

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for the choir to come in at the end.

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They get nervous waiting because they've got to come in quietly.

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It's a wonderful moment because they come in

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on this D-flat major chord

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very quietly indeed.

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CHOIR SINGS

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HE MOUTHS

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All the great choirs will be able to sing

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really quietly and really loudly.

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Those are different things, which need

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different things from the singers.

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Even though you're singing quietly, it's still about being focussed.

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You have to be able to sing the right pitch,

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and have a focus and projection.

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CHOIR SINGS

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It's a bit like taking a fine car

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and putting your foot down on the accelerator.

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You think, "This car is purring along nicely. Now see what it can do

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"when I really want to make a point."

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The accelerator just goes and goes.

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That's when you feel the impressive nature of this music.

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CHOIR SINGS

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You say to a chorus I want you to feel you're shouting that.

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They'll produce a certain colour.

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That's a great feature, particularly about the end of

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the Resurrection Symphony where they're almost shouting out

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to the audience, to God, himself.

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CHOIR SINGS

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A friend of mine played me Mahler's Second Symphony

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when I was quite young and I was bowled over by it.

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It's so dramatic.

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CHOIR SINGS

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For me, Mahler is like watching a whole load of different films.

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One minute it's like Star Wars, the next it's like Lawrence Of Arabia.

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The next minute it's like some great big religious epic.

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And then, finally, it's like the triumph of the hero,

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the end of the story and the choir are singing

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and all of the heavens are ablaze. It's incredible.

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Have a seat.

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Wow!

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I wasn't singing and I'm going to have a glass of water. Really good. Well done.

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THEY IMPROVISE

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For me, the human voice is the greatest instrument.

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As well as having an incredible range of notes and being able to sing really loudly or softly

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it also can make such a vast array of sounds that other instruments simply can't do.

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And some of these sounds are not what most people would think of as singing.

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I have chosen The Tiger by Giles Swayne, which I think is gonna be really fun.

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What's great about this piece is that he manages to use just vocal sounds

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to create a sense of atmosphere and place,

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just using simple things like, "Teh-teh-teh".

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On their own they're not particularly impressive, they don't sound choral,

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but when you start to put them together how he does,

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you get something that's incredibly evocative.

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To-ko-ta-ko-ta. Can we all try that?

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-# To-ko-ta-ko-ta. #

-Hmm.

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Let's do it slowly. To-ko-ta-ko-ta.

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-JUMBLED:

-To-ko-ta-ko-ta.

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To-ko-ta-ko-ta.

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-To-ko-ta-ko-ta.

-That's good.

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Now with the pitch. And...

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# To-ko-ta-ko-ta! #

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Yeah. I'm starting to like it.

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Can we put underneath that the "Brrrr-rap!"

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Brrrr-rap! Hummm!

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Brrrr-rap!

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Hummm!

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Can we do the whole thing standing up? Let's go.

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Ha!

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# Teh-teh-teh-teh-teh-teh

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# Oooh-ah

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# Oooh-ah! #

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We're still exploring the different things the human voice can do.

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Some of our contemporary composers have been brilliant in doing that,

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Giles Swayne, for example.

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At being able to use the human voice, without text

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to create effect.

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To-ko-ta-ko-ta! Tiger.

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Tiger.

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Tiger!

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Tiger!

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Tiger! Tiger!

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It's so exciting when you come across a new piece of music

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that has used the human voice in a way you never even thought possible.

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# Oh Lord

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# Oh Lord

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# Doong-doong

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# Doong-doong. #

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HE IMITATES DRUMS

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There's an extraordinary American group and if you hear them...

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I've been so often deceived into thinking I'm listening to instruments

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and I'm not, I'm listening to voices.

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They can produce any instrument in their voice.

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# For all my life

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# Oh, Lord... #

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They can mimic electric guitars, bass guitar,

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saxophones...

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Absolutely stunning how they can work together. It sounds like a band on stage,

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but it's just voices.

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# Oh-oh-oh

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# Oh-oh-oh. #

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HE IMITATES DRUMS

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We sometimes say, "Clever old voice for being an instrument." But I think it's the other way round.

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Clever old instrument for so being so close to the voice.

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# I don't know what there is to see

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# But I know it's time for you to leave

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-# Ah-ah

-# We're all just pushing along. #

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Most choirs have four different voice sections

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# All your anticipation... #

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There are two groups of high voices, usually sung by women.

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And two of low voices sung by men.

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Put together, these parts give a choir an amazing range

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of pitch and tone.

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# So come on see the light on your face let it shine

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# Just let it shine. #

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Handel's Messiah.

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'Handel's Messiah is one of the most popular choral pieces of all time

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'and one of the first I ever performed.

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'Written almost 300 years ago, it's a perfect example of how the four sections combine.'

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For me, the wonderful thing about a choir is the different colours,

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different sounds that each voice section bring to it.

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So that's the basses - the lowest part. The tenors, slightly higher,

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the altos and then the sopranos. These four sections are the backbone of the choir.

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I'd like to start by just hearing the basses on their own

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cos, you guys, are the foundation, you're the underpinning

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of all the harmony that'll come later when we put the tenors, sopranos and altos on top of it.

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I'm marked "forte" for this, so let's try.

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# Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. #

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Probably the most important part of the lot is the bass.

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It's everything the sound sits on.

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The bass sets up the fundamental of the sound

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and then the tenor, the alto and the soprano, they build on top of that like bricks.

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Lovely though it was, it sounds rather bald without the rest of the harmonies.

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LAUGHTER I'm hoping we can put some hair on it.

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Worthy Is The Lamb.

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-ROUNDED QUALITY:

-# Worthy is the Lamb that was slain... #

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Every section has their own character.

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That's part of what makes the choral sound exciting

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because it's these individual characters,

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which come together, to pull in the same direction.

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Just like in an orchestra, I always think the woodwinds have a certain character

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and so does the violins.

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I think the different sections of a choir also have character.

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You get the beefy bass-sounding people

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who I usually connect to the brass players.

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They like a bit of a laugh.

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I could get told off for this terribly by my singing colleagues, but sopranos can be the divas.

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They're the people who like to stand in the front and they get a lot of the limelight.

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Tenors are very heroic. The altos I find quite easy, quite laid back.

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Just like the jam in the sandwich, quite happy.

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# Him that sitteth upon the throne

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# And unto the Lamb. #

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Good, and well there's our choir.

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Thank you very much. Pass your Handels to the side.

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In addition to the standard four parts -

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soprano, alto, tenor, bass,

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you can also have mutations of that.

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You could have a big 6ft 6 chap

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who can sing soprano.

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But it's likely that his

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soprano will have a completely different colour.

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HE SINGS SOPRANO

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That's an added element

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to the scope that one has to create these variants of tone, colour

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and texture.

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Andreas Scholl, who's an alto.

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He can sing very, very high. It's a distinctive, but very pure sound.

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# She bid me take love easy

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# As the leaves grow... #

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He sings with a beautiful, rich tone

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you wouldn't really think if you saw a guy, you wouldn't think it's the sort of sound he could make,

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but he makes it extremely well. It's beautiful.

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We think of choirs having four parts but we depart from that all over the place.

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A glorious example is Thomas Tallis,

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who wrote his 40-part notette.

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We're told it was for Queen Elizabeth's 40th birthday.

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That he was paid £40 for it.

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He wrote it in 40 parts. There are eight different choirs,

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each of five parts.

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MUSIC: "Spem In Alium" by Tallis

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You have eight five-part choirs who talk sometimes against each other

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and sometimes with each other. It gives a whole sense of drama.

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The experience of hearing this wall of sound...

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is extraordinary.

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It's unlike anything else.

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It's unique.

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You're just engulfed.

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It's thrilling. It really is very, very thrilling.

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I have sung Spem In Alium a couple of times.

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It's an absolutely incredible piece.

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What's wonderful about it is the way the harmony moves.

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There's overlapping textures, like an enormous tapestry of sound.

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If you're in the middle of it, listening with all the parts moving,

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the sounds changing around you, it's incredible. It's like no other choir piece.

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PIECE ENDS

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APPLAUSE

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# Ooh-ooh ooh

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# You and I must make a pact... #

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'From the moment I sang with my school choir, I was hooked.

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'But it wasn't a particular song that grabbed me. It was the sound -

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'a sound that's the hallmark of choral music.'

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-# I'll be there

-I'll be there... #

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Right, I want to think about harmony,

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and, for me, that's the great joy of being in a choir and listening to a choir, is hearing harmony.

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There are so many possibilities with harmony that add colour and texture

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and richness to the sound world.

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SINGLE VOICE SINGS PLAIN CHANT

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Many years ago, we started with chant.

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In monasteries, usually, and usually not written down.

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Then, gradually, people started singing in harmony, putting them together.

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SEVERAL VOICES SING IN HARMONY

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'The sound of harmony is incredibly effective,

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'but it's based on a very simple principle.'

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Which notes most closely go with this?

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HE PLAYS SINGLE NOTE

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The next closest is...

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HE ADDS NOTE AN OCTAVE HIGHER

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The next closest after that is...

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HE ADDS FIFTH NOTE ABOVE FIRST NOTE

0:21:310:21:33

And the next...

0:21:330:21:35

HE ADDS THIRD NOTE ABOVE FIRST NOTE

0:21:350:21:37

-And those three form what we call a triad.

-HE PLAYS LOWER THREE NOTES

0:21:370:21:41

'That is the basis of all harmony.'

0:21:410:21:44

'So these triads, or chords, can be used to create

0:21:440:21:48

'the most beautiful harmonies.'

0:21:480:21:50

Let's do a...C major chord, right.

0:21:500:21:53

Can I have the first note, from the basses?

0:21:530:21:57

BASSES SING C

0:21:570:21:59

Can I have a fifth, the G?

0:21:590:22:00

TENORS SING G

0:22:000:22:02

An E, the third...

0:22:020:22:03

ALTOS SING E

0:22:030:22:05

And another C.

0:22:050:22:06

SOPRANOS SING HIGHER C

0:22:060:22:08

The human voice - when that comes together, in harmony,

0:22:080:22:12

there's not a man-made instrument that can touch it.

0:22:120:22:15

Beautifully blended, if I may say. Very nice.

0:22:150:22:19

Hundreds of years ago we just had those simple chords.

0:22:190:22:21

Now we have much more advanced harmony available to us -

0:22:210:22:24

there are sevenths and ninths, and different notes you can add in

0:22:240:22:28

that bring different colours, different textures,

0:22:280:22:32

and make the sound world of contemporary music

0:22:320:22:35

and contemporary classical music much more colourful.

0:22:350:22:39

So let's try that.

0:22:390:22:40

Can I have a C again?

0:22:400:22:43

BASSES SING C

0:22:430:22:45

And let's have the fifth, and a second, a D...

0:22:450:22:48

ALTOS SING D

0:22:480:22:50

..and a seventh.

0:22:500:22:52

SOPRANOS SING B

0:22:540:22:56

I literally could stand here and do that all day.

0:22:560:22:58

It's really good! You might get bored... THEY LAUGH

0:22:580:23:02

'What I really love about choral harmony

0:23:020:23:05

'is how its influence has spread far beyond classical music.'

0:23:050:23:08

MUSIC: "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys

0:23:080:23:13

I remember, very clearly, hearing the Beach Boys singing unaccompanied.

0:23:130:23:18

And that really impressed me - the way they used harmony, the way they sing,

0:23:180:23:22

the way they listen to each other, the way they're absolutely together. Feels like a choir.

0:23:220:23:26

-# Ooh, ba-ba, good vibrations

-I'm pickin' up good vibrations

0:23:260:23:30

-# Ooh, ba-ba, excitations

-She's givin' me excitations... #

0:23:300:23:33

The sound that the Beach Boys make, with those harmonies,

0:23:330:23:37

is the culmination of a language which has grown up over centuries.

0:23:370:23:41

-# ..good vibrations...

-She's givin' me excitations

0:23:410:23:45

# Close my eyes She's somehow closer now...

0:23:450:23:51

# Softly smile... #

0:23:530:23:54

The Beach Boys' harmonies are usually in four parts

0:23:540:23:58

and it's very clean, accessible harmony.

0:23:580:24:01

All the parts are more or less equal

0:24:010:24:03

so you don't just have one lead singer and the backing harmonies.

0:24:030:24:07

Very recognisable, so within a few chords you know it's the Beach Boys. They've created their own language.

0:24:070:24:13

-# Do do do doo, do do do doo

-Oooh, ooh-ooh

0:24:130:24:17

-# Do do do doo, do do do doo

-Oooh, ooh

0:24:170:24:21

-# Do do do doo, do do do doo

-Ooh, oh-ooh, ooh ooh... #

0:24:210:24:27

'You take a sad tune, you add some harmonies to it, it makes it more sad.'

0:24:270:24:31

Take a happy tune, add some harmonies to it, a bit of rhythm, it makes it more happy.

0:24:310:24:34

# I may not always love you But long as there are... #

0:24:340:24:40

'Harmony gives musicians the potential to be fully expressive.'

0:24:400:24:46

That's not to say that a unison line with absolutely no harmonic background

0:24:460:24:51

is not beautiful and expressive.

0:24:510:24:54

But harmonies can create immediate and deep-felt effect.

0:24:540:25:00

# If you should ever leave me

0:25:000:25:03

# My life would still go on believe me

0:25:030:25:08

# The world would show nothing to me

0:25:080:25:12

# So what good would living do me

0:25:120:25:17

# God only knows... #

0:25:170:25:19

What I like about God Only Knows is that it has a real simplicity, a buoyant nature,

0:25:190:25:23

and the harmony's very simple - HE HUMS MAIN TUNE

0:25:230:25:27

and it kind of ebbs and flows.

0:25:270:25:29

# God only knows what I'd be without you-ou-ou-ou

0:25:290:25:37

# With...out...you. #

0:25:390:25:45

'The Beach Boys brilliantly repackaged harmonies for a modern audience.'

0:25:450:25:49

APPLAUSE AND CHEERING

0:25:490:25:52

Thank you! Thank you, and good evening everybody!

0:25:530:25:57

'But, for me, the most astonishing harmonies in choral pop music

0:25:570:26:01

'can be found in a song by Queen.'

0:26:010:26:04

We're going to start off with a little segment from a number

0:26:040:26:08

called Bohemian Rhapsody.

0:26:080:26:10

'I really love Bohemian Rhapsody, because of the range of emotion and musical style'

0:26:100:26:15

contained within it. It's a sort of miniature, a choral miniature.

0:26:150:26:19

# Mama, just killed a man

0:26:190:26:23

# Put a gun against his head Pulled my trigger... #

0:26:230:26:28

'Bohemian Rhapsody's amazing. I remember the first time I saw it.

0:26:280:26:31

'It's an incredible song.

0:26:310:26:33

'What's compelling about that piece is it's pushing all the boundaries.'

0:26:330:26:37

There's very good harmony, very complicated harmony, harmonic singing.

0:26:370:26:42

-# Mama, ooh-oo-oo-ooh

-Anywhere the wind blows

0:26:420:26:49

# I don't want to die

0:26:490:26:52

# I sometimes wish I'd never been born... #

0:26:520:26:55

It uses a lot of choral effects, it's long, it's in lots of different sections,

0:26:550:27:00

and it's high and low, fast and slow.

0:27:000:27:02

# Mamma mia, mamma mia Mamma mia let me go

0:27:020:27:05

# Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me

0:27:050:27:09

# For me, for me... #

0:27:090:27:15

It's just an amazing piece.

0:27:150:27:17

Yeah!

0:27:170:27:19

You're just dazzled, as a listener.

0:27:220:27:23

# So you think you can stone me And spit in my eye

0:27:230:27:29

# So you think you can love me And leave me to die... #

0:27:290:27:32

The choral ability that they have in those pieces is significant.

0:27:320:27:36

Bohemian Rhapsody made a big impact, and, for a lot of people,

0:27:360:27:39

that kind of represents what choral music is.

0:27:390:27:43

# Any way the wind

0:27:480:27:52

# Blo-o-o-ows. #

0:27:520:27:59

# I'm quick on the trigger With targets not much bigger

0:28:010:28:05

# Than a pinpoint, I'm number one

0:28:050:28:07

# I'm number one

0:28:070:28:08

# But my score with a fella... #

0:28:080:28:10

'As a choral novice, I thought choirs were all about the singers...

0:28:100:28:15

'and the conductor.'

0:28:150:28:17

Has everyone got a copy?

0:28:180:28:20

'But choral composers are a vital part of the mix,

0:28:200:28:24

'and they're responsible for a style that gives a choir its true depth and intricacy.'

0:28:240:28:29

OK, ladies and gents, we looked at homophonic music,

0:28:290:28:34

which is music with big blocks, big block harmony,

0:28:340:28:36

some very scrunchy harmonies as well,

0:28:360:28:38

and now I want to look at music where it's polyphonic.

0:28:380:28:43

Polyphony is music where individual parts move separately.

0:28:430:28:46

'One favourite of mine is by a 16th-century Englishman

0:28:460:28:50

'who was a master of beautiful sacred music.'

0:28:500:28:54

To really get a good example of polyphony,

0:28:540:28:57

I think you can't get much better than Byrd,

0:28:570:29:00

a wonderful, wonderful English composer.

0:29:000:29:02

And, in this piece, the altos start

0:29:020:29:04

and then the tenors go at a different time,

0:29:040:29:07

then the basses go at a different time,

0:29:070:29:09

and they all seem to take different routes before finally arriving at their destination.

0:29:090:29:13

And that's the essence of polyphony.

0:29:130:29:15

To make this really clear, I'm going to ask a smaller selection - three to a part.

0:29:150:29:19

Would you like to come and stand forward?

0:29:190:29:22

And I'm going to show very clearly

0:29:220:29:24

where each part sets off on its own particular journey

0:29:240:29:27

before arriving at the home key of E flat.

0:29:270:29:30

-#

-Sa...

0:29:310:29:41

Sa...

0:29:330:29:41

Sa...

0:29:350:29:41

-ALL: #

-..nctus.

0:29:410:29:43

-#

-Sa...

0:29:440:29:48

-Sa...

-#

0:29:460:29:48

Polyphony, the word, is "several" "sounds".

0:29:480:29:51

Poly-phony.

0:29:510:29:52

It may be the same tune worked differently.

0:29:540:29:57

It may be a completely different tune.

0:29:570:30:00

But it's lines of sound that occur together.

0:30:000:30:03

And so your ear is being passed from part to part.

0:30:030:30:08

THEY SING

0:30:080:30:15

If you and I were to sing two songs at the same time,

0:30:150:30:19

the result would not be pleasant.

0:30:190:30:21

Unless we organised it, unless we worked it out.

0:30:210:30:24

And the genius of a composer of polyphony

0:30:240:30:29

is that they manage to get these several tunes working at the same time

0:30:290:30:35

and that at any one moment they are working in harmony.

0:30:350:30:39

So this special thing which we call harmony happens,

0:30:390:30:43

at all moments.

0:30:430:30:45

And there's no moment when it is just fog.

0:30:450:30:48

So it's all bright light.

0:30:480:30:50

THEY SING

0:30:500:30:55

I think Byrd's three-part mass is so beautiful,

0:30:550:31:01

that it works from a technical point of view,

0:31:010:31:03

but emotionally as well, it's spiritually uplifting.

0:31:030:31:06

Byrd's three-part mass was probably written in the 1590s sometime,

0:31:060:31:11

when we know that Byrd was away from London working in a very small, recusant Catholic household,

0:31:110:31:16

so a Catholic household where they were celebrating mass privately for fear of being discovered.

0:31:160:31:21

He writes music which is slightly secretive, rather mystical,

0:31:210:31:25

and it's a little bit like a quiet conversation.

0:31:250:31:27

Using our polyphonic rule, each of the three voices is as important as the other.

0:31:330:31:37

No one part is recessed in any way.

0:31:370:31:40

They've all got to be equally strong or equally quiet,

0:31:400:31:43

but there's an intimacy about it,

0:31:430:31:45

and there's even a playfulness.

0:31:450:31:48

And it gives you this wonderfully engaging music.

0:31:480:31:51

Of course, it's only three voices, which is not unusual in that period,

0:31:540:31:58

but the fact that it's three voices means that it's even more important to get the tuning

0:31:580:32:03

and the blend and the ensemble absolutely right.

0:32:030:32:05

In order to sing polyphony, one has to be quite sophisticated musically

0:32:170:32:22

in terms of one's musical approach.

0:32:220:32:25

So, in a sense, polyphony is the highest art in choir singing.

0:32:250:32:32

I love all Bach's music,

0:32:390:32:41

but in particular the Mass In B Minor.

0:32:410:32:43

Just take, for example, the opening chorus.

0:32:430:32:45

I mean, this is a great example of polyphonic writing at the beginning.

0:32:450:32:49

It's a great example of the mastery that Bach has over writing for orchestra and choir.

0:32:540:33:00

In terms of polyphony, you don't need to look much further than Bach,

0:33:090:33:14

because Bach had a way of being able to take a tune and say, "That will work."

0:33:140:33:20

One wonderful example, Dona Nobis Pacem,

0:33:320:33:35

from the end of the B Minor Mass.

0:33:350:33:37

That little tune works with the other parts coming in, one after the other, perfectly.

0:33:430:33:49

And forms the wonderful, wonderful harmonies.

0:33:490:33:51

And it's such a clear construction, we can all hear that one part comes in after the other.

0:33:510:33:58

THEY SING

0:33:580:34:05

What he's doing, Bach, is he's exploring the absolute extremities of what he's inherited,

0:34:050:34:12

in terms of harmonic language,

0:34:120:34:16

and working with patterns.

0:34:160:34:18

And he was an unsurpassed genius.

0:34:180:34:22

Then it reaches the most wonderful musical conclusion

0:34:290:34:32

with drums and trumpets coming in as well.

0:34:320:34:34

And the great, unanswered question is, how did he manage

0:34:510:34:57

to create work of such awesome transcendental beauty,

0:34:570:35:01

which you know is divinely inspired?

0:35:010:35:04

Somehow you feel that music like this cannot exist out of just one human being.

0:35:040:35:10

There has to be the hand of God in there, somehow.

0:35:100:35:13

Location can be the making and the breaking of a choir's performance.

0:35:200:35:26

I could spend six months rehearsing with a choir,

0:35:260:35:29

perfecting their polyphony and creating beautiful harmonies,

0:35:290:35:32

but a key part of the success of their performance will be where they sing.

0:35:320:35:36

OK, so, here we are in what is quite a small space,

0:35:410:35:45

a studio space.

0:35:450:35:46

It has a very particular acoustic.

0:35:460:35:48

If we put the same sound in a huge cathedral

0:35:480:35:50

it would sound completely different

0:35:500:35:52

and your relationship with the volume is completely different.

0:35:520:35:55

I'd like to do a scientific experiment.

0:35:550:35:58

I would like four volunteers, one from each sections,

0:35:580:36:00

to come with me around the building

0:36:000:36:02

and we will try singing in different spaces,

0:36:020:36:05

to see what effect that has on the volume and on the sound that you make.

0:36:050:36:10

Slightly bigger.

0:36:120:36:14

-Shall we sing at the space?

-OK.

0:36:140:36:16

So if we turn around there and bounce it off the back wall.

0:36:160:36:20

THEY SING

0:36:200:36:25

Lovely. Really makes a difference. You... HEY!

0:36:350:36:37

ECHOES

0:36:370:36:38

HEY!

0:36:380:36:40

Is it easier, do you think, to sing in a space like this?

0:36:400:36:42

-Much easier.

-Yes.

0:36:420:36:44

Why is that?

0:36:440:36:45

You don't really feel you have to make an enormous effort.

0:36:450:36:48

You get something back.

0:36:480:36:50

THEY SING

0:36:500:36:55

Yeah, that's great.

0:36:550:36:57

I was once singing in the Royal Albert Hall Berlioz's Te Deum.

0:37:010:37:04

It's a huge round,

0:37:040:37:06

oval-shaped building,

0:37:060:37:08

and the choir stands at one end and sings out.

0:37:080:37:10

And because of the hugeness, the vastness of the space,

0:37:100:37:15

I felt that I was singing on my own.

0:37:150:37:17

I couldn't hear anyone beside me.

0:37:170:37:20

The sound just went like this, and then around.

0:37:200:37:23

It didn't come back to me at all.

0:37:230:37:25

In concert halls your sound usually reflects off surfaces and comes back to you.

0:37:250:37:29

In that particular hall it didn't, and it felt very, very frightening.

0:37:290:37:33

This space is perfect. It's perfect for a medium-sized choir.

0:37:330:37:37

Especially when it's got a few people in it.

0:37:370:37:40

It's got lots of wood,

0:37:400:37:41

you can hear from my speaking voice that there's a lovely echo.

0:37:410:37:46

# Hear my prayer. #

0:37:460:37:49

ECHOES

0:37:490:37:50

That really lasted in the space.

0:37:510:37:54

So, the sound leaves a legacy behind it.

0:37:540:37:58

But not too much.

0:37:580:37:59

I mean, if it went on echoing for five or six seconds

0:37:590:38:03

it's very, very difficult to have clarity in the sound.

0:38:030:38:07

Here at St Paul's we have an eight-second echo.

0:38:130:38:15

So that makes our life quite difficult sometimes.

0:38:150:38:18

If we're doing Bach, for example, fast Bach,

0:38:180:38:21

then it's very difficult for

0:38:210:38:23

the congregation to hear exactly what we're doing.

0:38:230:38:26

Conversely, if you go into a very dry acoustic,

0:38:300:38:33

where there is no echo whatsoever, that can have the opposite effect.

0:38:330:38:37

THEY SING

0:38:370:38:40

Yeah, just doesn't go anywhere.

0:38:400:38:43

It stops, doesn't it?

0:38:430:38:44

Yeah, splat.

0:38:440:38:46

Which I suppose could make you feel a bit insecure.

0:38:460:38:49

A good practice room though, you've got the worst possible acoustic.

0:38:490:38:52

You're always going to sound better in real life.

0:38:520:38:55

-So true though.

-Best way to practise.

0:38:550:38:57

A lot of singers practise singing into a corner or something,

0:38:570:39:00

so they get nothing back, you know? Rather than singing out into a room.

0:39:000:39:04

One venue, more than any other, has influenced choral music.

0:39:070:39:12

The shape of Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice was a major inspiration for composers of polyphony.

0:39:120:39:17

Everybody started writing for different choirs,

0:39:170:39:20

singing from different parts of the building.

0:39:200:39:22

There are balconies, different little chapels, different spaces, all over.

0:39:220:39:27

Together with a beautiful acoustic as well.

0:39:270:39:30

And you just have to go in there to think,

0:39:300:39:32

"Right, we could put a choir up there and a choir up there,

0:39:320:39:35

"and a soloist there, and a lute here."

0:39:350:39:37

The choirs would talk to each other and this gives you

0:39:400:39:43

a good sense of theatricality because there's distance.

0:39:430:39:46

It's a bit like a tennis match, you have to look at one side,

0:39:460:39:49

then you look at the other side as the ball travels across.

0:39:490:39:52

It's exactly the same in the music,

0:39:520:39:55

so you get some sense of stage, almost.

0:39:550:39:57

It became very, very exciting for composers to experiment

0:40:000:40:04

with creating effect,

0:40:040:40:05

which had to really mesmerise the public.

0:40:050:40:09

T: "Jerusalem"

0:40:220:40:26

There's one thing in particular that makes choirs special.

0:40:290:40:34

Which enables them to reach beyond music

0:40:360:40:39

and touch your soul.

0:40:390:40:41

As you know, I spend a lot of my time dealing with people

0:41:000:41:03

who haven't sung in choirs before.

0:41:030:41:05

And above all, the thing that they struggle most with

0:41:050:41:09

is understanding the technique necessary to communicate words.

0:41:090:41:12

it's such a difficult thing to get across to people.

0:41:120:41:16

Because you think, "Well, I'm saying the word clearly,

0:41:160:41:19

"I can hear it, can feel it in my mouth,

0:41:190:41:21

"it feels clear to me."

0:41:210:41:23

But of course, when you're singing, it's so different, isn't it?

0:41:230:41:26

It's that sense of having to project the words, every single syllable

0:41:260:41:30

and consonant and vowel has to be clear as crystal.

0:41:300:41:34

So I wanted to have a look at Jerusalem

0:41:340:41:36

because it's all in unison, so something everybody knows.

0:41:360:41:40

But really, focus in on the text, and how we communicate that text.

0:41:400:41:44

We'll just start by just speaking the words.

0:41:440:41:46

Can we do it all together?

0:41:460:41:48

ALL: And did those feet in ancient time

0:41:490:41:53

Walk upon England's mountains green?

0:41:530:41:57

It's of utmost importance that the choir sings with incredible care

0:41:570:42:02

because the word needs to be understood.

0:42:020:42:05

And for the word to be understood it needs a good start,

0:42:050:42:07

it needs a good middle,

0:42:070:42:09

and it needs a good end.

0:42:090:42:10

But not only that, it needs everyone to do it at the same time

0:42:100:42:13

and in the same way.

0:42:130:42:14

..and was Jerusalem builded here

0:42:140:42:17

Among those dark Satanic mills?

0:42:170:42:20

That's really interesting. Even though you're just speaking

0:42:200:42:23

I can hear variations, that somebody wants to say, "And did those FEET in ancient times..."

0:42:230:42:28

And somebody else wants to say, "And did those feet in ANCIENT times..."

0:42:280:42:32

There's all these subtle variations

0:42:320:42:34

and I suppose in a choir you can't really have that, we've got to

0:42:340:42:37

tie it down a bit.

0:42:370:42:38

Say for me that first phrase

0:42:380:42:40

and see if we can absolutely get "ancient" as the main word. Say it again.

0:42:400:42:44

ALL: And did those feet in ANCIENT time.

0:42:440:42:48

Already, just because I've asked you to think about it,

0:42:480:42:51

suddenly it makes more sense.

0:42:510:42:53

Shall we sing it now? Shall we stand?

0:42:530:42:55

I would like you to imagine it's somewhere where people really can't hear the words.

0:42:560:43:01

"And did those feet..." From the beginning,

0:43:010:43:03

TOTAL enunciation on every single syllable.

0:43:030:43:07

Here we go, straight in.

0:43:070:43:08

One...two...

0:43:080:43:10

# And did those feet

0:43:100:43:14

# In ancient time

0:43:140:43:17

# Walk up on England's mountains green?

0:43:170:43:24

# And was the... #

0:43:240:43:26

Pronunciation of words in choirs is on two levels.

0:43:260:43:29

One the one hand you want it to be clear

0:43:290:43:32

so you can hear what the words mean and be bound up in the emotion.

0:43:320:43:35

But also, you want the sounds to be beautiful.

0:43:350:43:39

The consonants give you the sense and give you the communication.

0:43:390:43:42

But the hard of a word is the vowel,

0:43:420:43:45

and the vowel is what helps to communicate the melody

0:43:450:43:48

and really carry the heart of the sound across to the audience.

0:43:480:43:52

Let's hear the vowels on their own, shall we?

0:43:520:43:54

# A-e-o-e. #

0:43:540:43:56

Ready? One...

0:43:560:43:57

# Ah-ey-aaw-eeeh

0:43:570:44:01

# Eeh-ay-oh-aaah

0:44:010:44:04

# Oh-oh-eeh-oh-aah-eh-eeh... #

0:44:040:44:10

Singing is all about the vowel and the breath.

0:44:100:44:14

How the vowel travels on the breath.

0:44:140:44:17

And that will determine the quality of sound.

0:44:170:44:19

# ..eh-oh-aaah-ah-eeh

0:44:190:44:23

# Aah-eeh-oh-aah... #

0:44:250:44:28

I teach people, I give people the sound of the vowel I want to hear.

0:44:280:44:32

When vocalising,

0:44:320:44:33

having the same shape of vowel is what, certainly,

0:44:330:44:38

enables the choir to create the sound that's needed,

0:44:380:44:41

and gives the blend, the harmony, the richness of the harmony,

0:44:410:44:45

and that is how we're able to achieve it.

0:44:450:44:48

# ..aay-oh-aah-ay... #

0:44:480:44:50

Singing words with clarity and precision

0:44:500:44:53

is essential when creating a great choral sound.

0:44:530:44:56

But it's the meaning of the words that really matters.

0:44:580:45:01

Words are so important in choral music.

0:45:040:45:06

If you think about it, they're trying to tell a story

0:45:060:45:09

or show an emotion.

0:45:090:45:11

All the great composers really knew how to word paint.

0:45:110:45:14

The text is behind everything.

0:45:140:45:17

It's the underlying common thread.

0:45:170:45:20

The song I'd like to look at is a beautiful hymn, Abide With Me.

0:45:220:45:25

What's wonderful, for me, about Abide With Me

0:45:250:45:28

is that it's a song we all know really well.

0:45:280:45:31

It has roots right to the back of our minds,

0:45:310:45:35

right into our childhoods.

0:45:350:45:36

It's desolate, but also hopeful, isn't it?

0:45:360:45:39

Maybe something about the harmonies, it has that stirring, like,

0:45:390:45:42

"Actually, it's going to be all right, I'll be there,

0:45:420:45:45

"I'll hold your hand", sort of feeling.

0:45:450:45:47

Can we have a chord? Let's sing unaccompanied.

0:45:470:45:50

SINGLE CHORD ON PIANO In full.

0:45:500:45:53

# Abide with me

0:45:540:46:00

# Fast falls the eventide... #

0:46:000:46:06

It's a beautiful hymn and certainly,

0:46:060:46:09

it also touches on the religious element,

0:46:090:46:11

the religious side of the lyrics, the words of the song.

0:46:110:46:15

"Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

0:46:150:46:18

"The evening deepens, Lord,

0:46:180:46:20

"With me abide." Remain with me, stay with me.

0:46:200:46:23

They're beautiful words. Again, words.

0:46:230:46:26

# ..and darkness deepens

0:46:260:46:32

# Lord, with me abide... #

0:46:320:46:35

The line that I always find really terribly moving in that hymn is,

0:46:350:46:39

"Help of the helpless."

0:46:390:46:40

Erm...which is such a beautifully simple way of articulating

0:46:400:46:45

that everybody needs comfort,

0:46:450:46:48

and that there are times with everyone feels helpless,

0:46:480:46:51

and I find, at those times, what I want to hear is music.

0:46:510:46:54

Cos music is what puts me back together.

0:46:540:46:56

# Help of the helpless

0:46:560:47:02

# O, abide with me. #

0:47:040:47:11

Lovely! Really, really lovely.

0:47:140:47:16

It's something inexplicable, isn't it, about a choir?

0:47:160:47:19

How everyone just senses this is the piece, this is the mood,

0:47:190:47:23

and you all just embody it, you all just become it, just feel it.

0:47:230:47:28

And it's wonderful. And the whole atmosphere of the room changes,

0:47:280:47:32

and it's almost... It gets into the carpet, it's incredible.

0:47:320:47:36

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:47:360:47:41

There's one member of a choir

0:47:460:47:48

who doesn't have to worry about their voice.

0:47:480:47:51

They just need to worry about everybody else's.

0:47:530:47:56

The conductor just seems to take the choir on to another level.

0:47:570:48:02

It's like a football team, for example.

0:48:020:48:04

There's the key player, and if that player is on point on a particular game

0:48:040:48:08

the team fires.

0:48:080:48:10

I'm delighted to announce that the next thing we're going to do

0:48:190:48:23

is all about me!

0:48:230:48:24

Erm, well, it's about conductors!

0:48:240:48:26

And what the conductor can and can't affect.

0:48:260:48:29

When I was a kid, I imagined that the conductor was like, just making the music up.

0:48:290:48:33

And I couldn't understand what their role was.

0:48:330:48:36

Essentially, a conductor's job is to make decisions

0:48:360:48:39

about how fast, how loud, sometimes they are following the score,

0:48:390:48:43

but sometimes following their own intuition, thinking, "No, I want this a bit louder."

0:48:430:48:47

And they might do that just through gesture

0:48:470:48:49

because it's a lot quicker than saying, "Can I have it louder here?"

0:48:490:48:52

But I think everyone understands that you start,

0:48:520:48:55

you go... INHALES SHARPLY

0:48:550:48:57

"Du-nuh!" You know? That's quite clear. Let's try that. Ready...and!

0:48:570:49:00

PIANO PLAYS

0:49:000:49:01

Yeah. Thank you!

0:49:010:49:03

Just a short burst, good!

0:49:030:49:04

I'm just gonna alter my gesture,

0:49:040:49:06

uh, ridiculously, to really demonstrate this.

0:49:060:49:08

So I want you to just really respond to the size of my beat. OK?

0:49:080:49:12

SOFTLY: # I work all night, I work all day

0:49:240:49:26

LOUD: # Pay the bills I have to pay

0:49:260:49:28

SOFTLY: # Ain't it sad?

0:49:280:49:31

LOUD: # And still there never seems to be

0:49:320:49:34

# A single penny left for me

0:49:340:49:36

# That's too bad

0:49:360:49:39

# So in my dreams I have a plan

0:49:390:49:44

VOLUME FADING: # If I got me a wealthy man

0:49:440:49:48

VOLUME BUILDS: # I wouldn't have to work at all

0:49:480:49:50

# I'd fool around and have a ball

0:49:500:49:55

# Badah-badah-badah-bah

0:49:550:49:56

# Badah-badah-badah-bah

0:49:560:49:58

# Money, money, money... #

0:49:580:50:00

A choirmaster has a whole host of things that he or she needs to do.

0:50:000:50:05

You've got to maybe massage the sound, you want to get one section perhaps singing a certain colour.

0:50:050:50:10

One section that you want more powerful.

0:50:100:50:13

# La-ba-da-da-da

0:50:140:50:16

# Money, money, money... #

0:50:160:50:18

You're keeping and setting the tempo. You're holding back the climax until the right moment.

0:50:180:50:23

You're giving all the leads. You are encouraging.

0:50:250:50:29

You're building.

0:50:290:50:30

# ..If I had a little money

0:50:300:50:34

# It's a... #

0:50:340:50:35

It's like knobs on a radio set.

0:50:350:50:37

You're constantly controlling, manipulating.

0:50:370:50:41

# ..If I had a little money

0:50:410:50:43

# It's a rich man's world. #

0:50:430:50:45

Good! OK, thank you.

0:50:460:50:47

People might argue my conducting's like that normally.

0:50:470:50:50

LAUGHTER

0:50:520:50:54

You get all kinds of characters, you get some...

0:50:560:50:59

slightly unhinged people.

0:50:590:51:01

You get some very, very calm people.

0:51:010:51:03

You get some very, very showy, very charismatic people.

0:51:030:51:06

MUSIC: "Symphony No. 5" by Beethoven

0:51:060:51:08

Some maybe have big hair.

0:51:090:51:11

Some perhaps have very, very small beats.

0:51:110:51:14

You can always tell a bad choirmaster and a good choirmaster actually.

0:51:230:51:27

Some people think that you can breeze through it

0:51:270:51:30

and, you know, you can kind of pretend that you're conducting.

0:51:300:51:33

But actually, I think a good choir will know as soon as the person

0:51:330:51:38

starts an upbeat whether or not they are very good or very bad.

0:51:380:51:43

# ..Yeah, yeah, yeah! #

0:51:550:51:57

It isn't just a conductor's choral knowledge and technique

0:51:570:52:00

that can shape the sound of a choir.

0:52:000:52:03

Just as influential is their personality.

0:52:030:52:07

I remember about 15 years ago, I came into the choir here, Eton Chapel Choir.

0:52:070:52:12

And I started a practice

0:52:120:52:15

and it was excellent, the sound was really vibrant.

0:52:150:52:20

Normally I think I've got to work on that but it was really vibrant.

0:52:200:52:25

And I said, "How come you've just suddenly made a good sound like that?"

0:52:250:52:29

And the little boy said to me,

0:52:290:52:31

"Cos you're in such a good mood, sir."

0:52:310:52:33

And he absolutely put his finger on it - I was in a good mood.

0:52:330:52:37

If you're in a good mood, standing in front of a lot of singers,

0:52:370:52:41

that rubs off on them.

0:52:410:52:43

When we smile at people, they smile back.

0:52:430:52:45

# Swing low

0:52:450:52:47

# Sweet chariot

0:52:470:52:49

-# Coming for to carry me... #

-One more time!

0:52:490:52:54

You've got to want to be in front of people.

0:52:540:52:56

And I'm not going to... I would love to say that all conductors

0:52:560:52:59

are self-effacing and charming and modest and lovely. Some are and some are different.

0:52:590:53:04

I think in order to want to be in front of people, leading them,

0:53:040:53:07

you have to have almost a certain degree of arrogance

0:53:070:53:11

and I'm not being rude by saying that.

0:53:110:53:13

It's a tiny, tiny amount of it. You've got to be able to say,

0:53:130:53:16

"I feel like this about this piece and I would like you to as well."

0:53:160:53:20

# Fast falls the eventide... #

0:53:200:53:27

I think my personality as a conductor is very...

0:53:270:53:32

I think I'm very inspiring.

0:53:320:53:33

Ah, definitely I use a lot of spontaneity when I'm in front of a choir

0:53:330:53:38

so a choir has to be attentive, my choir has to pay attention when I'm in front of them

0:53:380:53:43

because they may not know what I might lead them in to.

0:53:430:53:46

And I find when I am... the more animated I am

0:53:490:53:53

it's the better performance of the choir. And they certainly project a wonderful, joyful...

0:53:530:54:00

umm, spirit and attitude to the audience.

0:54:000:54:03

So the performance as a whole is much better as a result.

0:54:030:54:06

# Abide

0:54:060:54:09

# With me. #

0:54:090:54:16

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:54:160:54:18

So, we feel like we've covered all sorts of things that are important in choirs

0:54:210:54:26

but, above all, the most important thing about listening to a choir for me

0:54:260:54:31

is the sort of heart and the emotion.

0:54:310:54:34

The experience of listening to a choir is incredibly powerful.

0:54:340:54:38

THEY SING IN THEIR NATIVE TONGUE

0:54:420:54:44

For me, the South African anti-apartheid anthem Nkosi Sikeleli Africa

0:54:540:55:00

embodies all that's powerful about choral music.

0:55:000:55:04

What I find moving about choirs is when it's a large group of people

0:55:120:55:17

all coming together with one voice

0:55:170:55:19

and everyone's singing together in harmony, at the same time,

0:55:190:55:23

making a unified sound with one sense of purpose.

0:55:230:55:26

I find that incredible because it's so..

0:55:260:55:29

It's like nothing else that human beings do.

0:55:290:55:32

# Nkosi sikeleli Africa. #

0:55:360:55:41

I think the fact that it's got Africa in it

0:55:410:55:43

immediately, you can hear in your head, can't you, massed voices.

0:55:430:55:49

And you don't think of it as a solo line.

0:55:490:55:53

You think of it as massed voices singing in harmony.

0:55:530:55:56

For a piece of music, vocal music,

0:56:090:56:12

that united a whole community. It represented their flag.

0:56:120:56:18

It represented their strength

0:56:180:56:21

and the sense of community and oneness.

0:56:210:56:24

All their hopes and aspirations were in that piece.

0:56:240:56:27

When you're joining a group of people and you're really singing together,

0:56:320:56:36

it's a real community spirit.

0:56:360:56:39

It's something that you can't describe in words,

0:56:390:56:42

it's a feeling that you're all there with a common purpose

0:56:420:56:45

and you're all expressing something that goes beyond words.

0:56:450:56:49

It will become often a shared view of the world or a shared view of love,

0:56:530:57:01

a shared view of something beautiful,

0:57:010:57:04

a shared view of something terrible.

0:57:040:57:06

A shared view of a great drama.

0:57:060:57:09

And we will have all shared that together and that is extremely important.

0:57:090:57:14

It's become synonymous with victory

0:57:290:57:33

at the end of painful, painful struggle.

0:57:330:57:37

And nothing else but a song sung by massed choirs

0:57:390:57:43

can express that.

0:57:430:57:44

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:58:090:58:11

Thank you, it's lovely, really lovely.

0:58:180:58:21

Wow, what a treat.

0:58:220:58:24

Thank you all, it's great. Thank you very much.

0:58:280:58:30

You sound really good.

0:58:370:58:38

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:390:58:43

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:430:58:46

Choirmaster Gareth Malone joins forces with the BBC Singers to explore the styles and techniques that create a choir. He finds out why there are four sections, what polyphony is, what links Bach and the Beach Boys, what difference the venue makes and which choral combination is guaranteed to touch an emotional chord.

With repertoire ranging from Mahler to Queen and contributions from leading experts, the programme lifts the lid on the secrets of choral music.


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