August 23, 2008

Choirs Are Not Hitting the Right Notes Here

By Peter Collins

AS I write, I'm listening to a splendid recording of Bach's Mass in B Minor, a truly majestic work that, in my opinion, everyone should listen toat least once before they die.

Normally, I listen to this work at times of extreme stress, sadness or depression, finding that it lifts my thoughts and spirit to a higher plain and presents cause for hope and optimism.

Why then, I hear you ask, are you listening to it now?

Well, as part of my sometimes onerous duties on this newspaper I was obliged last weekend to watch a television programme called Last Choir Standing in which a choir from Cardiff called Only Men Aloud was making a bid for a place in tonight's semi-final.

The glitzy programme is presented by a smirking, pseudo- sophisticated, self-satisfied individual called Nick Knowles who is only marginally more irritating that his co-host, one Myleene Klass.

Anyone watching this programme expecting supreme choral singing of the kind demanded by Bach's Mass in B Minor will be sadly disappointed. It is one of those lowest common denominator, dumbed- down, crass television offerings that pollutes the weekend television schedules.

It is sad and depressing to think the BBC has slashed television coverage of the Proms to the bare minimum this year to make space for this kind of tripe.

What is even more depressing is that the Cardiff choir is clearly talented and steeped in the Welshchoral tradition. Yet it is prevented from offering the best of that tradition, instead being obliged to sing jazzed-up versions of banal pop songs and "show- stoppers".

On last week's show, another Welsh singer of some talent, Katherine Jenkins, was reduced to giving what I thought was a lack- lustre performance of the hackneyed You'll Never Walk Alone.

The excuse given for all this is that it is "Saturday-night entertainment", as if everyone who watches television on a Saturday evening has the intelligence of a gnat. When the culture of a country is demeaned in this way it is little wonder it leaks out into other social ills.

If you think I'm worried about the direction the country is taking, listen to Les Paul, from Porthcawl, who wrote to me this week seeking my opinion of a documentary film he has made called B*****d Britain.

The film is, he says: "a brief insight into what's really happening in mainstream society today. It focuses on a number of issues that seem to be bringing our way of life to its knees.

Hard drugs and violent crime are slowly becoming a part of every day life, people are getting knifed and shot daily, women raped and children snatched and abused with frightening regularity. Streets are unsafe and our you thare out of control, many self-harming and even hanging themselves."

That is a little extreme. But it is time that we in Wales resisted the temptation to join the others and lower our standards simply to be part of the crowd. We should aim for the equivalent of Bach's B Minor Mass and not stoop to the level of Last Choir Standing. That is also why those staging the London 2012 Olympic should not try to emulate the vastly expensive and soon-to-be- forgotten Chinese pageant and concentrate on the essence of modern multi-cultural Britain. The pounds 9.3bn set aside for the London event is more than enough.

The Olympics should concentrate on the achievements of athletes and not present an essentially meaningless "Saturday-night entertainment" kind of show.

Similarly those staging the 2010 Ryder Cup in Newport have a marvellous opportunity to present the true Wales, full of beauty, poetry and that choral tradition, tothe rest of the world.

They should not waste it.

This was no pyjama party!

GOOD God, Gertie, what were you thinking?

Readers may recall that a week orso ago I received a phone call from a woman called Gertie who alerted me to a sale ata Cardiff store where,she said,purple pyjamas were on offer at a bar gain price.

Myfavouriteold purple pyjam as, which I usually wore to write this column at the crackofd awn, disintegrated, leaving me searching foranew pair.

You can imagine my excitement as I climbed the stairs to the mens wear department of the store last Saturday, keenly looking for the bargain pyjam as.I waslike a child on Christmas Daywaiting to open his presents.

And suddenly, there they were. I removed them from the rail tolook atthe bargain price. It was... pounds 45.

It was one of those moments where one is stopped in one's tracks, rendered speechless.

"pounds 45!" Ieventually blurted. "This is a bargain?"

Iexamined the garment, certain it must be made of the finest silk.

But no,itwassimply100%pure cotton. I put them back on the rack, keeping my wallet (which did not contain pounds 45) firmly shut.

Ihadim agined Gertie tobea cheerful,elderlylady,cosy in her little cottage. Now Ithink she must liveinone of the posherpartsof Cardiff-oreven DinasPowys - where people would think nothing of shelling out pounds 45 forapairof purple pyjamas.

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