The Choir – Sing While You Work: Gareth Malone returns to unite the staff of Lewisham NHS Trust

by Matt D

It’s fair to say that Gareth Malone has become a household name over the last year thanks to creating The Military Wives Choir who not only got the Christmas Number 1 but also who featured on Gary Barlow’s Jubilee single ‘Sing’. Malone isn’t resting on his laurels though as he is bringing his choir series over to America while on home ground he is journeying to four different workplaces attempting to unite the members of staff into one choir before having them all compete against each other to find the best choir out of the four.

The first workplace Malone travelled to waas Lewisham NHS Trust hospital with his mission to unite the 3,000 members of staff that work over the hospital’s fourteen different sites. Anybody who has seen any of the prior Choir knows the drill as Malone rushes around the hospital trying to recruit potential singers with the usual disinterest from busy doctors eventually growing into interest from midwives and one particularly enthusiastic kitchen porter. After his recruitment drive Gareth is spoilt for choice as 120 staff members from across the hospital turn up a number he must whittle down to a more manageable 30 a task he carries out by listening to them sing ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’. Gareth’s next mission was to create the choir attempting to both get a cross section of staff members from across the hospital but at the same time try to pick the strongest singers eventually deciding on a group that included surgical consultants, neonatal nurses, speech therapists and porters.

With the choir officially formed Gareth attempted to get them to sing as one and after several suggestions, including my personal favourite ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, they decided on ‘Lean on Me’. At the same time as perfecting the sound of his newly formed choir Malone wanted to get to know some of the characters so we knew some of the key members of the group. There was speech therapist Natalie Beaumont who was a regular singer but hadn’t let on to any of her colleagues while pharmacy porter Aaron was nervous about being alongside staff members more senior than him but gradually built up his confidence after some private lessons with Gareth. Then we met surgery consultant Eddie Challoner a competitive rugby player who describes himself as a ‘posh plumber’ and was in it to win it while it seemed that several members of the choir were afraid to approach him due to his reputation. To counter-act this hierarchy Gareth took them onto a ship across the Thames in order for them to bond which I thought was a good idea as it also gave them the chance to sing together with them performing London’s Burning in the traditional round style. After several rehearsals he thought the choir were ready for their first performance gathering a group of patients together to hear their incredibly polished rendition of ‘Lean on Me’.

The next section of the episode was devoted to the song Gareth wanted the choir to perform for the contest that being REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ a more slow-paced song that some of them were reluctant to sing it. Gareth’s decision to pick this song came from a conversation he had with A&E consultant Chidi who told him about the emotional disconnect that some of the doctors and consultants must have with their patients to the extent that they separate their professional and personal feelings. While searching for a soloist he discovered that while most performances were technically proficient nobody was emotionally connecting with the song partly down to the reasons that Chidi was talking about with Eddie in particular refusing to open up describing the song as mawkish and dirge-like. Finally he saw the emotion pour out through Natalie’s performance who revealed that she had become a speech therapist after he daughter was born deaf. Later on Gareth visited Natalie’s home in order to help her perfect the solo eventually getting her to feel the emotion of the song by signing the words to her daughter.

As we saw montages of the choir practising, sometimes without Gareth as he obviously was with his other work choirs, it seemed that some were finally emotionally connecting with the song that was apart from stick-in-the-mud Eddie. The final performance at the end of the episode saw the choir perform in front of their co-workers and families while at the same time unbeknownst to them one of the competition judges, composer Manvinder Rattan, was also there. For me this final performance was good but still needed work, which I suppose is the point as the contest will be their real chance to shine, as Manvinder gave mainly positive feedback but told them that they were still far from perfect.

I have mixed feelings about this new series of The Choir which diverts from the usual format by having what would normally be a three or four week series crammed into an hour. The first episode of any series of The Choir is usually completely devoted to Gareth attempting, and often failing, to sign reluctant people up for his singing ensemble however this time all of this was covered within the episode’s first ten minutes. I appreciate that each week is devoted to one separate workplace but for me I thought there was enough material within this first episode to fill an entire series with the themes of the choir struggling to come together because of the hospital hierarchy as well as their emotional disconnect from ‘Everybody Hurts’ seemingly skipped over in order to get to the final performance. In a normal series of the choir Gareth would’ve broken Eddie’s frosty exterior down and in the final episode would’ve got him to successfully emote but here he just had to resign himself to the fact that the consultant wouldn’t open up. The Military Wives version of The Choir also struck a chord with most due to its emotional resonance, it even made me a bit teary-eyed at times, however call me a cynic but I found this episode slightly emotionally manipulative. This could be seen in the case of Natalie, who was an incredibly lovely woman, signing to her deaf daughter a scene which while incredibly sweet also seemed to be there to get the audience to feel all emotional.

Having said that I really enjoyed this first instalment of Sing While You Work, mainly because I still find Gareth Malone an endearing TV presence whose enthusiasm for singing shines through. To be fair here he didn’t have to work as hard to get his choir together as he normally does, though he didn’t really have the time to be fair, but his struggle here was to get the hospital staff’s emotions to come through while singing ‘Everybody Hurts’. Going forward I can see a problem that every episode is going to have a very similar format and by part four we might get a bit bored so I’m hoping that a different story can be created for each individual workplace. Ultimately though if you enjoyed the previous series of The Choir then you’ll enjoy Sing While You Work which features some great characters with good voices and Malone still demonstrating his passion for choral music after all these years.

What did you think of Sing While You Work? Are you glad to have Gareth Malone back? Leave Your Comments Below.