David Grant introduces highlights from ten years of the School Choir of the Year competition, and speaks to the choir starring in a blockbuster movie.
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The Songs Of Praise School Choir Of The Year competition is all about singing,
making it an essential part of the Songs Of Praise calendar.
With over 1,000 entries from across the UK,
a host of celebrity judges, and a junior and senior winner each year,
2012 marks the 10th anniversary of this prestigious competition.
Guys, it was brilliant.
It was absolutely pitch perfect.
Today we invite you to celebrate this milestone
from the Lowry Theatre here in Salford,
soon to be home of this year's 10th choir competition.
In this special show we're going to look back at some of the performances
that made the judges, me included, laugh and cry.
I'll be revisiting some of the previous lucky winners to find out
how the competition has changed their lives.
And you'll discover the formula for what makes a great school choir.
As a recording artist and coach,
I know how singing in front of an audience can be the experience of a lifetime.
So let's rewind to 9th March 2003,
when Maltman Green School from Buckinghamshire
became the first winners of the junior competition.
Sing, O daughter of Zion.
Shout aloud, O Israel.
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart.
The Lord your God is with you.
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love.
He will rejoice over you with singing.
Since its first broadcast, the competition has seen entrants from Quaker schools,
convent schools, state schools, independent schools,
and winners from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
# And the walls came tumbling down. #
'I particularly like the fact that you hear'
the different voices and accents
of the whole of the United Kingdom in the competition.
# Lord, I want Jesus. #
There's something very beautiful about a group of children
singing in their accents that they speak in.
-Welcome to Ballyholme.
-THEY SHOUT AND CHEER
Welcome to Putney High School Junior Department. THEY CHEER
Welcome to Twyford Church of England High School.
There's no choir out there that can't enter and go on that journey
and that's what's so exciting.
The Gospel Choir!
Hi. Welcome to Coventry Blue Coat School.
We're a Church of England school at the centre of the country.
The Blue Coat Church of England School in Coventry
reached the finals in 2005 and won the senior title in 2008.
Before I tell you what they're up to today,
it's fair to say that their performance of How Great Thou Art
attracted justifiably amazing comments from the judges. Check this out.
'I remember the Blue Coat School'
for their soloist, who was a very able vocalist
for such a young man.
They were excellent and particularly he stood out
because of the conviction with which he sung the piece.
'One of the reasons I remember it so well is that'
it's not a fantastically complex piece of music.
It's quite simple. But it's a mistake to think
that things that sound simple are simple to perform well.
'What is difficult is transmitting something, a feeling,
'that's very pure and very together.'
When it does happen in that moment, it's terribly exciting. I remember that very well.
The Songs Of Praise senior school choir for 2008 is...
Blue Coat School!
THEY SQUEAL IN DELIGHT
Where are the Blue Coats now? They're not at school in Coventry.
They've invited me here to Shakespeare country
to the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
I'm prepared to be starstruck.
MUSIC: 'Good King Wenceslas'
Fear not, Christmas hasn't come early.
I'm behind the scenes of big-budget movie Nativity 2,
due for release later this year,
and the Blue Coats are competing in a fictional choir competition.
Turn over on Holly And Ivy.
# Where is Christmas?
# Where is she? #
-This is art imitating life, isn't it?
I don't know the ending of the film, whether we win or not
but I think we're supposed to be quite a nasty choir,
which is against the nature of the choir I try to produce.
Lovely. OK, cut there. Thank you.
Did you imagine that being part of an award-winning choir
would ever take you here?
When we won I thought it would take us places,
but not anywhere as big as this. It's brilliant.
Usually I'd be petrified of a camera, but seeing millions there
and smoke coming out and Christmas trees everywhere...
Yeah, it's really good.
By an amazing coincidence, one of the movie's assistant directors
was a choir member in 2008.
-Did you know the choir were going to be here?
-No, I didn't.
It was a brilliant surprise to see them coming off the bus.
There's Mr Formstone, my old choirmaster. It was absolutely brilliant.
Why do you think the producers chose Blue Coats?
It's obvious that they love what they're doing.
Mr Formstone, the choir teacher, takes great pride in the choir and that comes across.
I think it comes across on camera and that's what we want to see.
Can you tell us - in this movie, which choir wins?
I can't tell you that one, I'm afraid.
The Coventry Blue Coats are still going and still sounding great.
Something I'll take away from today is you never know where singing in a choir can take you
and that the producers of this movie knew a secret.
That is that if you want to find a really great school choir,
the Songs Of Praise Choir Of The Year competition highlights the best, year after year.
The competition has been graced with the very best
of Britain's musical talent, who have taken their places in the judges' chairs...
Please welcome - I'm so excited! - Pete Waterman!
..including opera legend Lesley Garrett
and world-famous mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins.
They'll be nervous, and that's something I'll take into consideration.
This year, like last year, I'll be joined on the judges' panel
by the people's tenor, Russell Watson,
and acclaimed choral expert Suzi Digby.
And believe me, judges past and present
know how difficult it can sometimes be
to reach that all-important decision.
In my experience, every judge
comes out of that room with a different favourite.
And what we're really trying to do is juggle between us
who we think is absolutely the one that somehow ticks all the boxes.
-And that's not easy.
-There are times when choirs were very, very close together
in terms of their performance standard,
but I think we were looking for the passion.
Despite those behind-the-scenes pressures of being a judge,
it's still a great job because, more than anything else,
this competition is designed to encourage us all to sing,
and I like nothing better than hearing those songs
that I think deep down we're all a little bit nostalgic for.
The hymns and spiritual songs that are often featured
in this competition
have a very deep background to them.
A lot of them are part of a deep well of tunes
that have existed in these islands for a long time.
When young people sing them, they are bringing them back to the surface
for another generation, which shows how powerful they are.
# The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want... #
I believe when we hear the old songs
it helps us to relive our childhoods.
# One more step along the world I go... #
Music helps us to remember and helps us to connect with our past,
and it's very important to have these pieces of music.
# Keep me travelling along with you... #
Each choir enters a traditional hymn and an inspirational song
on which they're judged.
I was in the judge's chair in 2010,
when Maria Fidelis Convent School won the senior competition.
I'm keen to find out what they're doing now,
but before I do, let's remember what made them winners.
David, I was going to come to you, but I have to go to Claire.
Why are you in tears?
Because it was so beautiful!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
I want to hug you.
It was such an uncomplicated,
beautiful, honest, pure performance.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
It really was.
I think what struck me most of all was that this was a new choir,
and I was taken aback
how a choir that had existed only for a few months, really,
had immediately started to act and sing as one,
which made me feel
what we were really hearing was a community singing together.
Maria Fidelis is one of the oldest Catholic girls' schools in London,
and their choir has gone from strength to strength.
They were even chosen to sing live for the Pope's visit to the UK.
'I want to know what their formula is.'
How many of you were in the Choir of the Year in 2010?
Gosh, that means all the rest of you are new!
And you still sound this good!
So, how many of you sort of looked and thought, "I want to do that"?
-We've already started.
Nina's already started up her own choir.
-Come over here, Nina.
-Would you mind?
-Yes, of course.
-All right, select the song, Nina.
It's Good To Praise The Lord. Go on.
# It's good to praise the Lord... #
# To make music to your name O God most high
# To proclaim your love and faithfulness
# All the day and through the night
# La, la, la-la-la... #
Now, what do you think the role of a choir leader is?
That perception has changed over the years.
Now I understand that sometimes a choir can be
very much like a church and the leader like a pastor,
so I do see that my role is to really encourage,
to celebrate them, to validate them.
And when you kind of foster that environment,
the members start to do it to each other.
Really important. I didn't realise that for many years, I have to say.
'Being part of the school choir competition
'can be a transformative experience.
'And that was certainly the case for 2007 winners
'King's College Taunton.'
'One of the winners from King's College Taunton is still at King's.'
Well, sort of.
He's now a member
of one of the oldest and best-known choral groups in the world,
the King's College Choir, here at Cambridge.
It's a big day for this Cambridge choir.
The cameras are back to film a major choral event for the BBC,
Easter from King's.
Five years on, chorister Peter Oakley is taking centre stage.
Today is a really busy and special day, isn't it?
Today, yeah, it's a bit extraordinary.
We've got the chapel wired up, there's lots of cameras on us...
We're learning all of the pieces that are in the programme.
So that's up to 20 pieces,
a real mammoth struggle! HE LAUGHS
But I always love singing in the King's acoustic,
the chapel being full, you know.
There's really something very special about singing in the King's building.
And Peter's journey here is an inspiration, too.
I must have been about 13.
I didn't know anything about King's.
But I had a dream.
I had a strange dream where I was in this building.
It was quite a long building, it was quite dark, it was candle-lit.
And I was singing in this building.
At the time, I was quite confused about it,
cos I'd never seen anything like it.
It wasn't until...six years later, when I was 18, 19,
when I walked into King's Chapel for my audition,
that it suddenly dawned upon me,
this is that very building that I dreamed about.
It was just an amazing turn of fate,
and, you know, I'm a Christian,
so I believe that God showed me that dream,
and it's made me think that he's got his hand in everything that we do.
Over the years, the Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year competition
has seen an exciting range of styles and song choices.
# For thou hast crowned him... #
But above all, we're still looking for choirs that really impress.
# Jericho, Jericho, Jericho... #
I look for excellence, passion, commitment.
I want to be transported into the world they're singing about.
But what do my fellow judges look for in a great school choir?
# Suddenly... #
What makes a really good school choir is a willingness
on behalf of the children to work and to be committed to it
and a really wonderful leading person.
Suzi, give us the winning choir's name.
A winning song, for me, shows off, if you want to use that term,
'the vocal ability.'
# Two by two by two by two By two by two by two by two... #
Waringstown Primary School!
Most choral competitions are there to test
whether a choir can sing in tune. Can it sing high and low? Can it sing difficult music?
All those things are testing choirs.
The Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year is different,
because as well as all that, thank you very much,
we are looking for an element that's much harder to pin down.
It is the faith and the spirit behind the performance,
and that's really, I think, what makes it such a special competition.
For me and my fellow judges,
school choirs matter more today than ever,
and that's why I'm delighted that just after Easter
we're going to see choirs performing here, on this very stage,
in the tenth School Choir of the Year competition.
And that's something worth singing about.
Next week, for the season of Lent,
when we remember Jesus wrestling with demons in the desert,
Sally meets people who have been seduced by life's temptations
and lived to tell their tale.
The hymn singing comes from Kent,
and there's wonderful music from VOCES8.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
David Grant introduces a decade of highlights from the annual School Choir of the Year competition, and discovers why one winning choir will now be starring in a blockbuster movie.