Gareth Malone with the University of Exeter's a cappella group Semi-Toned

Semi-Toned make final of national TV singing quest

The University of Exeter’s a cappella group Semi-Toned is in the final of Gareth Malone’s TV search for the nation’s most talented and entertaining amateur choir.

The all-male group is one of just three choirs to make it through to the final of The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain.

The group was selected in a tense semi final which saw the four regional heat winners work with industry experts in a “boot camp” to prepare for a performance in front of a panel of judges.

Semi-Toned President Sylvan Rackham said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have made it through to the final stage! The semi final was the toughest challenge yet, and Gareth really challenged us with his song choice of Candle in the Wind, but we learnt so much from it, particularly from our mentors, who helped us to find the real meaning in the song.”

Michael Luya, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and who sang the heart-rending solo, said the semi-final was one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. He said: “I certainly felt a lot of pressure performing the solo, because the song itself meant so much to so many people. I wanted to do my best to understand the connection it had with others who had seen more of Princess Diana or Marilyn Monroe, but ultimately I had to realise that the kind of connection I was searching for had to be much more personal - finding such a connection was definitely a challenge for me.

“When I was rehearsing with Semi-Toned night and day for three days straight, I was absolutely delighted to have finally found such an emotional response before our big performance. I rarely ever cry and it still amazes me that I was in tears after we performed 'Candle in The Wind'. I was very nervous on the day but I was very fortunate to have a group like Semi-Toned to give me the confidence I needed - I genuinely couldn't ask for better friends, or such a wonderful audience. The fact that my family were able to make the performance as well was the icing on the cake for me.”

Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter, said: “We’re really proud of Semi-Toned – they’re well known across the University and they have a strong following, for good reason. Exeter has a vibrant a cappella scene and it’s been great to see these talented, motivated students showcased on a national stage. We wish them all the best of luck in the final.”

The series also featured University of Exeter all-female a cappella group Sweet Nothings, who left the competition in an earlier round after a dramatic sing-off with Semi-Toned which can be viewed on the BBC’s YouTube channel.

Having crowned the nation’s most entertaining amateur a cappella group in last year’s hugely successful The Naked Choir with Gareth Malone, this year Gareth opened up his contest to groups from all musical traditions.

Gareth auditioned a diverse mix of groups and choirs in towns, cities and villages across the country, before selecting four to go head-to-head in the contest stages of the series, each representing a different part of the UK.

The grand final will see Semi-Toned compete against fellow finalists the Bulmershe Ensemble (Reading) and EAGA (Leicester) for the most votes from the invited jury. Vocal prowess alone won’t secure the title – the competition will be fierce and groups must find the extra entertainment factor to secure victory. The choir who emerges triumphant in the grand final will receive the honorary title of Britain’s most entertaining amateur choir.

In the meantime, Semi-Toned are performing at the University of Exeter's Christmas lights switch-on on 1 December at 4pm. 

Gareth Malone has won two BAFTAs, an International Emmy Award and numerous other accolades for his previous series, and he was awarded an OBE for his services to music in 2012. He has quickly become a national treasure thanks to his ability to nurture otherwise hidden musical talent from a broad demographic of the British public. In 2011, the singers Gareth brought together in The Choir: Military Wives secured the UK’s Christmas number one, with the single Where You Are.

Date: 30 November 2016

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