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TV review: The Choir: Singing for Britain, The Art of Persia, and A Deadly Union

03 July 2020

BBC/Twenty Twenty

Sara from episode one of The Choir: Singing for Britain

Sara from episode one of The Choir: Singing for Britain

WHAT songs, then, lie within you, just waiting for utterance: psalms of praise and thanksgiving? dirges of suffering and lament? We are all supposed to have a novel within us; it seems to me more likely that we all possess the latent ability to create a song or two. All most of us need is the opportunity and, as it were, a midwife to help deliver our music.

The opportunity is provided by lockdown; the nation’s vocal accou­cheur is, of course, Gareth Malone. The Choir: Singing for Britain (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) goes beyond his now familiar ministry of helping the most unlikely groups of people discover that they can dare to sing, and sing in public, thereby finding a new meaning to their lives. Here, he seeks to demonstrate that people can compose their own song, and have the ability to marry their words to their music and express thoughts and feelings.

Each week, he selects workers from one key area of national support: last week, it was frontline medical staff. A care-home worker, William, from Hamilton; a junior doctor, Sarah, from Cardiff Bay; and a trainee nurse, Hannah, from Cam­bridge, are, at their peril, caring for others (William caught Covid-19 as the show progressed; it seemed to me that his recovery was far short of complete).

All of them have, without formal training, marvellous voices, and patent sincerity. In each of them, Malone seemed to unblock a dam; at his gentle encouragement, ideas for lyrics and melody simply poured out. He then provided structure and discipline: develop that idea, see where that line might grow. With marvels of technology (all virtual), he added harmony, rhythm, and symphonic backing, and made them perform their pieces live, to suitably distanced friends and colleagues. It was, of course, triumphant, moving, and cathartic.

The second episode of The Art Of Persia (BBC4, Monday of last week) focused on Zoroastrianism and, in particular, its unlikely survival as a religious and even more significantly cultural force. Samira Ahmed has been granted unusually wide access to Iran, revealing how today’s hard­line Muslim state is shot through with surprisingly vigorous expres­sions of pre-Islamic practice.

What we normally consider to be the glories of Islamic art and archi­tec­ture owe far more, she suggests, to Zoroastrian influence than we had ever imagined.

Wedding receptions are emo­­tional forcing grounds; sometimes, alas, they expose familial faultlines. We expect excitements, but it is unusual for the party to be enlivened by not one, but two murders, one of them the bride’s — and especially if no one notices. A Deadly Union (Channel 4, Sunday of last week) set off from this nonsensical premise; but, with a glamorous cast and a Riviera setting, it’s an undemanding way to brush up your conversational French.

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