The day the choir went naked
Published on: 09 Oct 2015
They say it’s not about the winning but about the taking part. Ladies from Bromley Heath WI Choir certainly found this to be true when they formed a spin off group called Jam Hot and managed to very nearly make it on to Gareth Malone’s new BBC show, Naked Choir. Choir member Julia Alden Peirce is now free from her gag of secrecy and spills the beans on the choir’s brush with TV fame
YOU may have noticed members of the choir acting slightly suspiciously of late or being vague with their whereabouts…we can now reveal why!
After weeks of secrecy, clandestine meetings and the signing of official documents with the BBC we are now allowed to speak openly about our recent adventure.
At the end of March this year Emma Richards (loud choir member) posted an article on the BHWI Choir Facebook page from the BBC inviting choirs to enter the audition process for Gareth Malone’s new series of ‘choir’ shows. At first we poo poo’ed the idea on the basis it was for A capella choirs who were “outstanding, energetic, with musicianship and technical ability with astonishing performances” – we kind of felt we may be lacking a little as we had never attempted to sing A capella let alone able to fulfil any of the other attributes!
However mumblings of interest continued until it was clear that there were enough people interested in ‘having a go’ at A capella as just of a bit of fun, and we would fill in the forms and send in an audition video.
So – “Jam Hot” was formed – a secret sub group of the choir. Late night trysts took place in various members homes until we had nailed an A capella version of one of our favourite songs, Rhythm of Life.
On Easter Monday, Jam Hot met at a hall, away from the Heath, and the audition video was made by using my son William’s skills. William propped his camera up on a pile of tea bags (oh so WI!) and filmed us singing several times until he was happy that he could cobble together a bit of suitable footage. I quickly did the required intro to the tape in one take and that was that.
Emma sent in the audition application and video and we thought little more about it, other than what fun we had had together.
Then came a phone call from the production team - our video had caught their eye! We had been chosen from around 1,000 choirs to join the top 300 to be interviewed!
Emma and I were selected as the “lucky” ones to be interviewed by researchers and were asked all manner of leading and sometimes personal questions about themselves and their fellow choir members. At the end of my interview I was told that Jam Hot were now through to the third round where the final 120 choirs would be auditioned and interviewed and filmed in two weeks time – a selection of songs would be sent and the choir must perform one from the list, giving only one week to prepare!
After a week of frantic worrying and Facebook posting, the selection of songs came through – and in a marvellous democratic way the songs were put to the vote and Madonna’s Like a Prayer was chosen as our audition song.
With the help of Nick our choirmaster and with a little twist of our own we managed to pull together a decent A capella version of the song, with only enough time for two rehearsals before the live audition we knew we were winging it but felt as pleased as we could with what we had done.
On Tuesday April 28, 2015 (the date was etched on our minds), Jam Hot took themselves to the Mecure Hotel in Redcliffe, Bristol to meet with the production team.
With time for a quick warm up in the reception area (our one and only ever public performance as an A capella group) we were then whisked away to be filmed singing our chosen song and then interviewed by the show’s director. Emma was miked up (not sure who enjoyed that more – Emma or the director) and then the interview session began.
Although there were 15 of us in front of the camera the director managed to keep us under control and directed various questions at different people to try to get to know us all. Emma and I were put on the spot when their thoughts and nicknames for the others that they had mentioned during their interviews were revealed – nothing too earth shattering though! The director was flabbergasted that we had never performed as an A capella group and got to this stage and declared that we were the most colourful bunch he had seen all day.
All was going well until the batteries on the portable camera that the crew were using started to fail - the director wasn’t sure which were the old batteries and which were the new – enter choir member Caroline King with a fail safe testing method of dropping the battery to see if it bounces. The director was delighted with the top tip that he had learnt for the day!
We were told that the next stage in the process was for the footage to be edited and then Gareth Malone and the directors would review the remaining entries and choose their final eight to go into the last stages of the show. At this point we were sworn to secrecy and warned that any leaks would lead to disqualification (no pressure).
We knew it was a slim chance that we would go any further but there was still that little tiny chance so we left the hotel giggling and high on adrenalin and headed straight to the pub to debrief.
The call came a week later to explain that we had not made it to the final eight, however we should be very proud of the achievement of getting as far as we did as the standard was really high.
On reflection there was a small element of relief for most of Jam Hot – we only entered for a bit of fun and we never thought for a million years we would get as far as we did, not sure our nerves could have coped with the stress of months of filming and the time spent away from home – let alone the musical challenges that lay ahead and the fact that we had to keep it secret until December when the show is aired. However there was of course an element of disappointment in that our little secret adventure had come to an end.
Experiencing this process has been an amazing journey for everyone involved, we have bonded through this shared experience, learnt a lot about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, laughed and cried and proved that with a bit of determination, a sprinkling of talent and a fair wind, us ladies can have a go at anything!
Julia Alden Peirce
*Although Jam Hot formed as a one off, BHWI Choir is very much alive and kicking. To find out how to join email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0117 956 4993.