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Singing chaplains find hitting the high notes boosts teamwork

The suspense is over now that we all know that Severn Trent Water's workplace choir won BBC2's The Choir: Sing While You Work. But had you noticed that two of the four competing choirs - Lewisham Hospital and Manchester Airport - included their respective chaplains?

The Revd George Lane (Airport Chaplain since March 2012) foresees clear lasting benefits for his organisation, with the programme conveying a dynamic and fun workplace where people took their work seriously, but were so much more than simply the function they performed.

"One choir member spoke of the choir giving them a reason to look their children in the eye and say 'I'm more than the job I do'", said George. "It's released hidden talents and revealed a different side to the individuals involved and therefore to the wider organisation. It's also illustrated and revealed how much dedication way beyond the call of duty there is in an organisation like this - and how that kind of solidarity and spirit depends on a sense of community."

As complex healthcare issues are worked out for the NHS in South-East London, the Revd Malcolm Hancock (Hospital Chaplain since November 2010) is less certain of the future. "Only time will tell whether there will be lasting benefits for us. But I know that the existence of the choir, its achievements and quality, and, of course, its TV appearances have brought great pride and excitement. I would like to think that the choir will continue to be a source of solace, pride and commitment as this particular Healthcare Trust enters a difficult period."

Following the Manchester choir's semi-final elimination, members were disappointed, hurt and angry.  "But from that moment," says George, "there evolved a sense that we were no longer doing this for Gareth or for the television; we were doing this for ourselves, for our airport - but even more for our colleagues and friends. We have all had overwhelming support - and confirmation that what we've been doing has been worthwhile. I hope, and fully believe, that the high spots are still ahead of us. We've just been auditioning for new members, and though a couple have had to drop out since the series finished, we are still growing in confidence, ability, commitment and aspiration."

The high spots for Malcolm were the rehearsals, especially after he realised the potential of Lewisham Healthcare Choir. "We gelled and learned music so quickly. In the space of a few weeks, I learned so many new techniques and became absorbed in the rapid development of a brand new choir, and the super new arrangements of familiar and unfamiliar music that we were given access to. I think the same was true for many of the other members."

Many of the most interesting exchanges around the choirs rightly took place off-screen. "People would never think of an airport as a profoundly spiritual place or a place of prayer, but it really is", said George. "I've listened (and talked) about Milton with an airfield colleague, God's forgiveness with firefighters. During filming you spend so much time hanging around that I was able to have fantastic conversations with choir members, but it's been great having these conversations as part of the choir, not an outsider."

Malcolm also found the experience enabling him to develop relationships. "People got to know more of my work and vice versa and as a result - coupled with the sometimes pressurised experience of singing - I got to know specific members of the choir quite well and, yes, we did talk about more personal issues from time to time."

And George added: "I led a service of prayer and dedication of a civil marriage for one of my choir colleagues only a week or two ago. It was one of the most moving services I've ever taken."

Both George and Malcolm were experienced singers from their schooldays, but had not met until the semi-final in Bristol. But, as often happens, the two clerical collars then made a beeline for each other. George claims not to have been in the  least intimidated to find that Malcolm was a former professional musician with Manchester's very own Halle Orchestra.

Literally the first email George received on his first day as Coordinating Chaplain at the airport had been an invitation to an audition. The auditions clashed with an initial meeting with a senior manager, so he very apologetically asked to reschedule the meeting. He bumped into the senior manager at the audition!

When George and Malcolm met, they were able to exchange something of the experience of being 'choral chaplains' and what their essential roles involved in their different organisations and settings. They had both seen that involvement had widened their range of contacts to include colleagues whom they would not normally meet - the perfect opportunity to get to know 30 colleagues really well, and to develop a sense of the diversity of their respective workplaces.

The closing shot of the final episode showed all four choirs assembled on the stage of the Colston Hall for the semi-final results. Each choir had rehearsed one piece in common: How Can I Keep From Singing?, a Christian hymn by Robert Wadsworth Lowry.  Before they were told which choir was to be eliminated, members of all choirs asked whether they could sing this song together as one choir of 120 people from four different workplaces. "We'd all rehearsed it", said George, "and we wanted a chance to sing it. Singing it together was magical and very moving."

All four choirs are still singing together, with lots of ideas for developing their new-found interest and talents.  But, asked whether we should now be looking out for recordings by The Singing Chaplains, Malcolm responded that he doubted that George and he really had the time to promote a new career for themselves as 'The Two Basses'! 

Notes

The Choir: Sing While You Work (6 episodes BBC2)
Presenter: Gareth Malone
Directors: Peter Cooksley and Stuart Froude
Series Editor: Colm Martin

The series is available on BBC iPlayer (for a limited time only).

Individual clips available on YouTube include: