‘Something, I Got You (I Feel Good), Angel and Bicycle Race’. Four eclectic songs that side by side make up a curious musical cocktail. These four songs by The Beatles, James Brown, Sarah McLachlan and Queen were crooned, bopped, sung a capella and harmonised by four community choirs at the first quarter final of Battle of the Choirs.
These groups, some numbering over 30-strong, had already passed the first hurdle. Now one was about to get instantly cut, one would get a free pass to the semi final and two would battle it out for a second placing. Before them Jonathan Welch, Iva Davies, Charli Delaney and George Torbay. Cheer squads of supporters clung to homemade placards –would their guys get over the line?
Each choir sang a song of their choice of around 3 minutes for judging by the panel. Two of the judges really stepped up to the television plate of offering character, criticism, support and emotion. David Koch eased his way through the format effusing enthusiasm with his trademark father figure support. Sensibly, he doesn’t try to espouse musicality, and for a 7:30pm Sunday timeslot he probably doesn’t need to. Purists may have difficulty with a broad approach to choral singing, but they could take heart from the fact the activity is getting the attention.
What worked here is the ‘underdog’ quality of the choirs. With Welch’s own Choir of Hard Knocks having paved the way for en masse groups to display character and audience support, it will be logical for Seven to expect the same. The choirs ranged in age, experience, gender and style as they performed Australia’s own mass Eurovision. Yes, that means the show veers from crass and camp to poignant and emotional without, ironically, rhyme or reason. During one number you could have heard a pin drop. Goosebumps rippled through the studio –no easy order in the cynical land of television.
But ‘choral-ography’ is the buzz word that will have everybody talking. Essentially, it’s “jazz hands” –and then some, as choirs dramatise with physical gestures. Why producers felt the need to visualise, make that over-visualise, perfectly good aural presentations is perplexing. Given the camera’s ability to pick up every facial expression, the ‘choral-ography’ was superfluous and regrettably dumbed down otherwise engaging performances. A group ABBA medley (complete with Mamma Mia turns) skated dangerously close to the old gestures Norman Gunston once threw at us during the 1970s.
Choirs that understand this is television, not theatre, and perform to the home audience rather than the studio audience will surely propel their way through the competition.
Battle of the Choirs is Gladiators with music, but there are moments that will reach out from left field, and do for group singing what Dancing with the Stars did for Arthur Murray studios.