The Power of The Voice

Gareth Malone, Cambridge Corn Exchange, 9th Dec’15

There are a number of things I need to bear in mind when travelling to Cambridge.  The first is how long it takes to get from the A14 to the city centre, that the place is populated by unilluminated death-wish cyclists and that getting into the car park on Corn Exchange Street can be tedious.

So it was we arrived in the auditorium in ill humour just as Mr Malone was introducing his fifteen strong choir.  The first thing you notice is that these are fifteen individuals, though all clad in black, no two ensembles were the same.  Nor were they standing stock still in regimented lines like one might expect of a traditional choir.

The show consists of numbers from a wide variety of genre, all delivered in the technically perfect manner you would expect when being led by a “choral animateur”.  In between songs we were treated to bits of personal biography, some anecdotes, and a smidgen of musical education. And, as befits a show nearing Christmas, a bit of audience humiliation – sorry I typed ‘participation’ but it came out wrong.

This show was a new experience for me being so different to the Rock, Pop, Folk and Theatre I normally find myself reviewing. I was impressed with Eric Whiteacre’s ‘Seal Lullaby’ and also by Sir James MacMillan’s ‘Oh Radiant Dawn’ both of which were new to me and powerfully presented.  Of the newer numbers the choir’s rendition of Toto’s Africa was wonderful.  I was less impressed, unfortunately, with their interpretation of Dire Straits’ “Brother in Arms”.  Perhaps because this is my personal “Stairway to Heaven” song – you know, the one you don’t mess with!

The first half was brought to a close by the talented 14-year-old Leanne who was making her last appearance with the choir on this tour, though I doubt from tonight’s performance, that it will be the last we hear of this youngster.

There was more variation of singing style to be had in the second half, the ladies having lost their black outfits and donned their finery.  One or two of the men put jackets on but little else changed.  The Christmas medley allowed all on stage to fool around bedecked in suitable seasonal headgear whilst flying through the songs we all knew.  The antlers and red nose suiting Gareth surprisingly well.

However I did find one moment cringe worthy.  Asking the audience to stand and turn on their torches on their mobile phones to sing along with Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’.  I would have had no problem with this had it come about spontaneously from the audience, and  I suspect I was alone at feeling uncomfortable, for the faithful seemed happy to join in before we all sat down again.

That moment aside, the show underlines how powerful an instrument the human voice is.  When led by a skilled and passionate conductor such as Gareth Malone the result is wonderful.