The Singing Estate

the singing estate: what happened next
19.15–20.00

Twelve months ago, conductor Ivor Setterfield transformed 40 residents of Oxford’s Blackbird Leys Estate into a choir fit to perform at the Royal Albert Hall with G4. The experience had a profound effect on everyone involved, but what has happened to the singers one year on?

Fivearts Cities, a joint initiative between Five and Arts Council England, has been working in Oxford over the past year with Oxford Contemporary Music and Oxford Philomusica to encourage people to participate in the arts. One year after the work began, one of the scheme’s main projects – the Blackbird Leys Choir –is still going strong. Thanks to Oxford Philomusica, the choir now has a new choral master, Andrew Stewart, and a new conductor, Marios Papadopoulos, who are preparing the singers for a string of other concerts.

On his return to the city, Ivor Setterfield is delighted that his protégés have embraced classical music with such fervour, and he now wants them to spread the word. Hoping that they will become “ambassadors for the idea of singing being good for people”, Ivor wants them to recruit a new choir – one that will fill the Oxford town hall and perform the Hallelujah Chorus in a one-day event called ‘Oxford Sings’, to be broadcast on radio. But there is very little time to organise this – will his singers be able to convince the citizens of Oxford that they’ve got what it takes?

Soprano Kayleigh, who was just 16 when the project began, is sent out on to the streets to kickstart the campaign by canvassing public interest. This is an impressive feat for Kayleigh, who suffered from a lack of confidence a year ago. Ivor recalls how Kayleigh progressed from a nervous girl to a confident singer, and she agrees: her experiences in the choir have inspired her to follow her dream of a career on stage and enrol on a theatre course. So many of the choir have benefited from their experience – even those who left the choir, like tenor Bobby and bass Colin, who used what they learned in their own musical projects. Ivor wants more people to enjoy similar experiences by taking part in ‘Oxford Sings’.

However, before this can happen, Ivor learns that he and the Blackbird Leys Choir have received a special invitation to attend the Annual Achievers reception at Buckingham Palace, where the choir will perform for the Queen and Prince Philip! It’s the first time that the choir has performed for an audience since their triumphant Royal Albert Hall concert – and this time it’s by Royal appointment!

The new choral master, Andrew Stewart, who has prepared the singers over the previous weeks, comes along to calm nerves and conduct. As well as performing carols as people arrive at the reception, the Blackbird Leys choir also perform the Hallelujah Chorus in the Music Room for the Queen. The group is ecstatic: “One of the best days I’ve ever had,” announces 72-year-old Eric.

With ‘Oxford Sings’ only two days away, Kayleigh and Alun get a spot on local radio to encourage singers to attend. And everyone’s hard work pays off when the day of the event dawns and the town hall is filled with hundreds of singers. This provides a huge task for Ivor, who divides the singers into bass, tenor, alto and soprano sections and splits his time between them. The singers, who range in age from young children to a 98-yearold lady, are then joined by the Scarborough in Song Community Choir, who have travelled five hours to be here and are excited about the chance to “experience a choir on a grand scale”.

When the hectic day of training, rehearsals and nerves comes to an end with an astounding rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, conductor and choir alike are overjoyed at their achievement. “That was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life,” says one singer. “It was fantastic.” “I looked at the faces and there was just happiness everywhere,” adds a beaming Ivor. “Music makes you well. Music makes you happy.”

Coming Soon on FIVE

the singing estate: what happened next

Twelve months ago, conductor Ivor Setterfield transformed 40 residents of Oxford’s Blackbird Leys housing estate into a choir fit to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. The experience had a profound effect on everyone involved, but what has happened to the singers one year on?

The choir is still going strong, working with new conductor Marios Papadopoulos and the Oxford Philomusica in rehearsals for more concerts. Ivor is delighted that they have embraced classical music with such fervour, and now he wants them to spread the word. Hoping that they will become “ambassadors for the idea of singing being good for people,” Ivor asks them to recruit a new choir – one that will fill the Oxford town hall and perform the Hallelujah Chorus in an event called ‘Oxford Sings’. But there’s not much time to organise the event, which will be broadcast on the radio – will his singers be able to convince the citizens of Oxford that they’ve got what it takes?

Also featured in this special catch-up programme are the stories of how participating in ‘The Singing Estate’ changed the singers’ lives – including bringing nervous teenage soprano Kayleigh out of her shell; introducing charismatic septuagenarian Eric to the community; and picking mum Ruth up out of post-natal depression. We also watch the excited choir as they attend the Annual Achievers reception at Buckingham Palace and sing for the Queen. A lot can happen in a year, it seems…

the singing estate (4/4) 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. In tonight’s programme, pressure mounts for Ivor’s novices as they prepare to take to the stage in front of a crowd of 5,000.

Just ten days away from their big performance, the choir is far from ready, and Ivor knows he has a lot of work yet to do. But it is not just the singing that is problematic: tensions are running high and precious rehearsal time is spent arguing. As if preparing for the Royal Albert Hall concert is not hard enough, Ivor raises the bar even higher. As well as performing ‘O Fortuna’, the singers will also be accompanying classical music stars G4 in their rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. And there is yet another prize in store when G4 arrive on the estate to rehearse with the choir!

But there is trouble ahead. Alto Jade, who has not been attending many rehearsals due to problems at home, is in danger of losing her place in the choir when Ivor discovers she doesn’t know either of the pieces well enough. And, when the choir travels to Liverpool for their first rehearsal with an 85-piece orchestra, Ivor is concerned that their unruly behaviour will ruin the concert for everyone.

When the day of the concert arrives, everyone is nervous. As the choir rehearses on the stage, tensions are heightened even further when a lack of discipline lets the singers down again. But crunch time has arrived for the understudies and Ivor must pick his final line-up for the concert. John Humphries, a serial talent show contestant, is desperate to prove that he’s good enough, but with time running out, will he realise his dream?

Just ten weeks ago, the choir had never sung a note of classical music, but they must now perform two pieces in front of an audience of 5,500 at Classic FM Live. But a last-minute panic attack by one of the sopranos threatens the performance: can they put their fears aside and sing like stars?

the singing estate (3/4) 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.

In tonight’s third programme, the Albert Hall concert is looming, so Ivor has arranged for his fledgling choir to sing at a community concert for their friends and family. But learning five extra songs in a fortnight is proving a tall order for some. To make matters worse Ivor has given choir member Bobby a famously difficult solo. Can he turn this former funk singerinto a Pavarotti-style tenor in time for the concert?

Having just returned from Verona where the choir flopped disastrously in the main square, Ivor decides they need an extra public performance if they’re to be ready for the Albert Hall. This will take the form of a community concert on the estate. He calls in everyone individually for appraisals and, appalled by some of the singers’ progress, demotes an alto and fires one of the basses.

When the extended repertoire for the concert is announced, Bobby is chosen as the soloist for ‘O Sole Mio’ – taking over the part of professional tenor Franco, who underperformed at the disastrous concert in Verona – and his training begins, although he struggles to find the confidence to deliver the part. Colin, who had hoped that he would be chosen for the role, decides to get the choir to perform one of his own compositions at the concert.

The section leaders decide extra rehearsals are needed if the choir have any chance of being ready for the concert – but some choristers don’t take their responsibilities seriously. Dorothy paints a picture of the choir for tickets, but Ivor has other worries on his mind: with only a week before the concert, the rehearsal is appalling.

Big Jon desperately wants the vacant place in the basses, but after Ivor hears all three cover singers who are vying for the spot, he decides that none of them are good enough yet. The three male covers redouble their efforts, and Jon asks section leader Alun to help him impress Ivor. Meanwhile, Colin puts the final touches to his song with the choir in the recording studio. Ivor gives Bobby a muchneeded pep talk, and the results are soon evident. The choir is inspired by Bobby’s transformation, and put in a lot of extra hard work – and it shows, as the final rehearsal goes brilliantly. Has it all come together at the right time?

The day of the concert arrives, and Alun oversees the construction of the marquee. Ivor takes the cover singers outside to tell them who has made the grade. To Jon’s disapointment, Ivor promotes Philip to the basses – has all his hard work been for nothing? Bobby invites his father to the concert to watch him sing, but he refuses to come. He ends up missing a treat: the concert is a triumph, as Bobby nails his solo and the choir deliver a stunning performance. Even Colin’s song goes down a storm. Everyone is left feeling very positive. But can they repeat this triumph on the greatest stage of all – London’s Royal Albert Hall?

the singing estate (2/4) 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 40 amateurs who have just ten weeks of training before performing at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. In tonight’s second programme, Ivor realises that with only six weeks’ rehearsal left before their big performance, his fledgling choir are still having difficulty singing together – most of them haven’t grasped that Ivor’s conducting is meant to help them do this. “I think they think I’m just waving my arms around for my own pleasure,” sighs Ivor. He decides that a crash course in classical singing is needed, and invites his choir to Italy. It soon emerges that not all of the choir can go, and a fierce battle breaks out between the seven available understudies, or ‘covers’, for the vacant places.

Twenty-year-old Candice, whose mother Julie is also in the choir, is desperate to go, and has been spending all her spare time rehearsing.To her delight, Ivor tells all four female covers that they can come – but there’s disappointment for the three men, as all the choir’s basses can make the trip and there’s no room for them. This is a particularly hard blow for John, who has never been abroad in his life. He gets up early to wave the choir off, and stares despondently after the coach as it leaves the estate. “And then there was one,” he says sadly.

The choir’s three-day Italian tour kicks off in Milan with a trip to the famous Scala opera house. Ivor has instructed the choir to meet him outside at 3.55pm, and while most of the group can’t wait to get inside, Ivor seems to have disappeared. He has heard that several choristers have opted for a more familiar cultural experience, and has headed off to McDonald’s to bring them back. He is not pleased by this unprofessional start, but presses on with the tour. The Scala is of about the same size and splendour as the Royal Albert Hall, and the singers are quickly overwhelmed by the building and how much work they will have to put in to be good enough to perform in such a venue.

At dinner that night, Ivor springs a couple of surprises on the choir, beginning with a performance by Franco, a renowned Italian tenor. The choir are amazed by his singing, and give him a spontaneous standing ovation. “I could have cried,” says oldest chorister Eric, “because it was so emotional.” Ivor’s second surprise comes as more of a shock: he wants them to sing classic Italian song ‘O Sole Mio’ with Franco to an Italian audience in their second stop of Verona.

However, things are not going smoothly – less than 24 hours after they left the UK, the choir are beginning to get on each other’s nerves. Ivor has put Cindy in charge of organising everyone, and it is clear that some people resent being told what to do. To make matters worse, their best soprano Seema has come down with a stomach bug and will be unable to sing. The choir have only been allowed 30 minutes’ rehearsal in Verona’s classical amphitheatre, and Ivor is keen to get going. His choir, on the other hand, are busy taking pictures, and seem undaunted by the size of the space they will have to fill with their voices.

When he eventually leads them through ‘Zadok the Priest’, he is considerably unimpressed with their efforts. “Horrific,” he tells them. “Absolutely horrific. We’ve gone huge paces backwards.” They are devastated by his criticism and vow to redouble their efforts, but can a choir beset by infighting – and still recovering from a late night on the Italian vino – learn to sing together in just one afternoon? And will their performance be up to the high standards Ivor is expecting?

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?

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