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Glee Factor bringing British Kids back to choirs

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    Posted: 19 June 2010 at 13:25

How the Glee factor is bringing British children back to school choirs

US comedy-musical show credited with renewed interest in school singing

The%20cast%20of%20the%20Channel%204%20series%20Glee%20on%20stage%20in%20Los%20Angeles%20last%20%20%20month The cast of the Channel 4 series Glee on stage in Los Angeles last month. Photograph: Startraks/Rex Features

When English teacher Katie Paine opened the doors of her school choir rehearsal last term only 12 students entered the room.

But, inspired by her favourite TV show which she knew was loved by her pupils, she decided to try something different.

At Surrey's Effingham school's first Glee Club rehearsal, more than 50 eager students turned up, expecting to be transformed into the dazzlingly-attired, perfectly-timed and always-in-tune show choir of the US TV show, which ended this week.

Effingham is one of several schools feeling the Glee effect, as traditional singing groups throughout the UK transform themselves into show choirs, encouraging young people to start singing for the first time.

The comedy-musical show charts the story of a group of teenagers in a US high school show choir, or glee club. The politically-correct cast – which includes the school's star football player, a feisty African-American, a gay teen and a student in a wheelchair – work their way through a series of good-time tunes, along with a large serving of self-deprecating humour.

"The hype of the programme has really caught on, they love it," said Paine, who choreographs the choir, while music teacher Amy Whiterod takes care of the singing.

"We have groups of sixthformers asking to come and practice at lunchtimes and you can see Glee clubbers practising the dance moves in groups."

Michael Raven, 14, joined Glee club three weeks ago: "I'd watched the programme and it just seemed like so much fun. I think other kids maybe thought singing was boring but this has made it more exciting."

No prizes for guessing his favourite song, it's a Glee favourite. "Don't Stop Believin' – it just makes you feel so good," he said.

It is not only schools who are going crazy for Glee. Helen Price, of the Choir of the Year said there has been a 30% increase in the number of choirs entering the competition. "It has definitely had an effect. It's lots more fun than it used to be, there is this sense now that anything goes," she said.

Instead of 20 pubescent girls caterwauling to The Sound of Silence, young choristers want to sing pop songs, with Michael Jackson, Abba and Queen all favourites. "It's great for the singers, because if they engage with their repertoire it gives them more confidence and they really belt it out," said Price.

Glee indoctrination also appears to be starting early. Sing Up, a nationwide singing programme aimed at primary school children, has noticed a rise in the number of pop songs downloaded from its site for teaching purposes. Celi Barberia, from Sing Up, said: "Music is starting to be perceived as something that is cool. Lots of choirs have been doing this type of thing already, but this is bringing it into the public arena."

The Glee effect may even be spreading beyond the school gate. Jay Kamiraz, whose Soul of Prophecy gospel choir has been going since 2004, has been hired to run a Glee workshop for unemployed parents in Tower Hamlets in east London.

"It's become such a big thing, everyone wants the Glee experience," he said.

Alison Duncan, who has just started a Glee club at GEMS Sherfield school in Hampshire is convinced of the benefits of being in a singing group. "Singing produces endorphins and is very therapeutic, and it's great for teaching the kids to be part of a team."

Renaming school choirs Glee Club has also helped with the perennial problem facing choir leaders: how to attract more boys. Alex Chestney-Stagg, 14, who has just joined, explained why he had never sung in a group before. "Singing in a choir was not exactly seen as the manliest or coolest thing to do," he said. "But Glee has opened it up to anyone. I like the fact that we get to sing contemporary songs, not hymns, and it's a good way of meeting different people."

The cast members of Glee may know all the words and movements to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance instantaneously – and have a perfectly formed bubble dress to perform in – but students know better than to have unrealistic expectations of their first rehearsals, said Duncan.

"It's a great lesson in delayed gratification," she said. "The kids have seen the show and know that the final results can be fantastic so they are willing to work at it."

For the moment, there is little of the competition that is an integral part of the scene in the US but that may be about to change. Choir of the Year are launching a National Glee competition in 2012.

The Guardian

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