Choirmaster serves soul food

MUSIC lovers are not advised to angle for an invitation to dinner at the family home of television choirmaster, Gareth Malone. Instead, they should muscle in on the washing up – because that is when the family sings. In St Neots on Monday to coach the R

MUSIC lovers are not advised to angle for an invitation to dinner at the family home of television choirmaster, Gareth Malone. Instead, they should muscle in on the washing up - because that is when the family sings.

In St Neots on Monday to coach the Riverside Singers, Gareth told The Hunts Post: "I always loved singing. We sing when we are happy in our family. We would always sing over the washing up, my mum would wash and my dad would dry and they would sing songs from the musicals.

"My parents met at an amateur theatre group doing Gilbert and Sullivan. They have their own choir now which they run it from their dining room."

The Riverside youth choir from St Neots has been accepted to compete in the World Choir Games in Austria in July - and this week, during their Easter holiday, they had a day of coaching with Gareth- the young choirmaster seen on the BBC2 series, The Choir, and second series, Boys Don't Sing.

In both programmes, Gareth, 32 - but with sixthformer looks - formed once reluctant youngsters into choirs who could compete on a national and international stage.

The Riverside Singers have a head start, they have already won competitions. Last year, they won Choir of the Year at the Eastern final of the Rotary Young Musician of the Year when they were known as the Peppercorn Singers.

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The World Choir Games is an international competition, held over four days. Choirs from all over the world will each sing four pieces, in three or four parts, and one will have to be in German.

Gareth, who conducts the community choir for the London Symphony Orchestra, was working in community education when he was discovered by the BBC. The broadcaster was looking for a choirmaster for a new series. "They found me on Google," he said.

He began working with community choirs when he finished his drama degree at The University of East Anglia followed by a course in singing at The Royal College of Music. He started in his hometown at Bournemouth Centre for Community Arts.

Since his two television series, he has been inundated with offers of work.

He says: "I have just closed my diary until 2009. There is a real renaissance now in school choirs, in primary and secondary. It is part of educating the whole child. As they say, man does not live by bread alone, they have to have something for the soul and singing is an easy and cheap way to provide soul food. This is a boom time for music teachers."

He has an engaging and natural way of setting people at ease. He makes them laugh.

As those people who had been able to find their way to the new St Neots Football Ground waited for those who were still looking for it, he asked a small group who St Neot was and they delighted in telling him the legend.

Once everyone was there, he asked them to stand in a circle and then he said: "OK, good morning - my name's Gareth, I do choirs and I am very excited to be here today."

Indicating the BBC Look East TV crew, he said: "Honestly, it's not everywhere I go that television cameras follow me. I went to the pub last night and nobody cared. Just do what you do and do it well."

He then began with warm-up exercises and, to make them act the parts they were singing, he gave them contrasting pieces to sing. For example Zippedy Doo-Dah was followed by an old English madrigal, Fine Knacks for Ladies, about a tinker trying to con women into buying his goods.

When he wanted a song more wistful because it needed to be sung to a child, he sat on the floor with his thumb in his mouth.

Frankie Lasman, vice-chairman of Riverside Choir, said: "The children thought he was absolutely great. They liked the way he was picky with them about details but amusing with it. They appreciated his little exercises getting them to do sensible things by doing silly things. They enjoyed the day and they got a lot out of it."

Gareth said: "I had a great time. It was great working with children who really want to sing. I hope that singing is becoming cool again - even though I am a bit of a geek."

Gareth was first seen on BBC in 2006 when he presented a series called The Choir with pupils from Northolt in Middlesex. In his second series, The Choir: Boys Don't Sing, he coached a group of boys from the Lancaster School in Leicester who went from being reluctant to sing at The Royal Albert Hall.

He added: "I like working with people as their first point of contact with music. I love to bounce people on." His enthusiasm is beguiling and infectious.

To raise funds for their trip to Austria, the Riverside Choir is giving a concert with supper with other youth groups at Huntingdon Commemoration Hall on Thursday, May 8. Tickets are £10 with the buffet or £5 for the seat, on sale at The Card Gallery in Huntingdon High Street and Kelly-Marie's Dance Shop in Fisher's Yard off Market Square, St Neots. The choir will also sing at the Rotary Proms in the Park at Savilles Close in St Neots on June 14, a picnic event with fireworks.

There is also a fundraising raffle with prizes including a chauffer-driven trip to Old Trafford with two box tickets for any home game. Tickets from the GP surgeries in Alconbury and Brampton.

INFORMATION: The Riverside Choir is a registered charity. Members are aged between 14 and 21. They need to raise £17,000 to go to the World Choir Games and still have £9,000 to go. Companies wishing to sponsor them can contact 07928 947479 or visit Cheques made out to Riverside Theatre Company, can be sent to Riverside Theatre Company, 74 Owl End, Great Stukeley, PE28 4AQ.