Tuesday feb 27
the singing estate (1/4) 19.15–20.00
This four-part series follows renowned conductor Ivor Setterfield as he selects singers from the Blackbird Leys housing estate in Oxford and transforms them into a classical choir. A brand new programme catching up with the singers today will air at the end of the series.
The series follows the journey of a group of 40 amateurs who have just ten weeks of training before they perform at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. In tonight’s opening programme, Ivor begins the audition process and discovers that the residents have more passion for hip-hop than they do for Handel. Has Ivor bitten off more than he can chew?
“The worst thing that can happen today,” Ivor worries, as he prepares for the first day of auditions, “is that nobody turns up.” But much to his surprise, the community centre is packed with excited singers – although only a handful of them make it through to next week’s call back. Ivor desperately needs people whose voices will blend together in choral harmony, so spends the rest of the day hitting the streets hoping to find some singers that he can persuade to audition. The next day goes a little better, and Ivor is blown away by nervous 23-year-old Simba’s rendition of ‘Lean On Me’. Simba gets an unequivocal thumbs up and an invitation to come back next week – but Ivor is still a long way away from filling the ranks of his choir.
Over the next few days, Ivor meets hopefuls with a range of vocal styles, including check-out girl Ruth who performs a powerful version of Meatloaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’; 71-year-old Eric, who dreams of singing in the Albert Hall and impresses Ivor with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’; 97-year-old Dorothy, who wants to join the choir to get some self confidence back; and serial talent show contender John – who has never made it past a first round before. He is encouraged by Ivor’s patient tuition following his rendition of ‘Wild Thing’, and vows to remember his guidance the next time he sings. But not everyone responds to his gentle approach.
At the end of the auditions, Ivor has one night to decide who to call back, and after agonising over the contenders, pins a list of names on the community notice board. As anticipation builds on the estate, the would-be choristers nervously file up to see if they have made the grade. Everyone who has got through – including Ruth, Eric and, against all the odds, John – is ecstatic. But there’s disappointment for those who didn’t make it. “To quote a biblical phrase,” says Dorothy, “‘Many are called yet few are chosen.’”
Ivor now faces the daunting task of whittling the hopefuls down to 40 choristers and eight reserves, or ‘covers’, and begins by teaching the singers Handel’s powerful ‘Zadok the Priest’. It is slow going at first, but then some of the group realise that this is also the theme music used for the European Champions League Football tournament, and things begin to go more smoothly. At the end of the day, Ivor faces a tough decision: “It’s up to me now to decide how many of the scary noises I can tame.”
Breaking the good news to the 48 choristers and covers is emotional for everyone – but the celebrations are soon over as the new choir members realise how much hard work they will have to do in the next ten weeks. There are only 27 rehearsals between them and the Albert Hall, and their first attempt at ‘Zadok the Priest’ is not a great success. “It’s not the prettiest noise I’ve ever heard,” Ivor tells the choir – unintentionally reducing their confidence to tatters.
Worried that their voices aren’t blending properly, Ivor devises a field trip and piles his choir onto a coach bound for the local 12,000-seat stadium, home to football team Oxford United. Lining them up along the penalty area, he leads them through one of the team’s songs – and then informs them that they will be singing it again to a full stadium at that afternoon’s game. It’s one of the toughest crowds the choir will ever have to face – but will they be able to rise to the challenge?