Struggling TV choir is singing out for new voices

Members of the Blackbird Leys Choir in rehearsal

Members of the Blackbird Leys Choir in rehearsal

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys. Call me on 01865 425403

THE Blackbird Leys Choir, stars of The Signing Estate television programme, may soon be silenced because it does not have enough members.

Organisers are looking for new singers to help keep the music alive on the Leys, as the group currently has just 12 members.

Committee member Hannah O’Leary said: “We are barely supporting ourselves. We’re just managing to keep our heads above water.

Mrs O’Leary, 67, said the weekly rehearsals were struggling to break even, adding: “We have had to put up membership fee from £3 to £5 a session just to keep ourselves afloat.”

Mrs O’Leary, from Cowley, said: “We have done some amazing concerts in our time. We have done really wonderful things, we just need some fresh blood.”

The group was originally put together in 2006 on Channel Five’s programme The Singing Estate.

Conductor Ivor Setterfield picked 40 out of 140 residents to form a classical choir, and the series culminated in a televised performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

They also performed for the Queen, said to be a fan of the show, at Buckingham Palace.

But now the group are struggling to perform at the local church.

Chairwoman Janice Clark said: “I don’t know if it’s the stigma still with Blackbird Leys, but we cannot get the members.

“We don’t want it to fold. We did have more people last year when we did the Rock Nativity concert with the Church of the Holy Family, but as soon as the concert finished they left.”

The group is in particular need of male singers, as they only have two at the moment.

Mrs Clark, 65, said: “We have to pay our musical director £50 a week, and the room is £15 a session.

“Currently we’re each giving the treasurer £5 a week.”

Since its formation in 2006, the group has previously received funding from Oxford City Council and Oxford Citizens Housing Association.

Mrs Clark is hoping the Blackbird Leys Parish Council will be the group’s saviour.

The Wood Farm resident said: “I’m trying to get £250 of funding, but I haven’t submitted the application yet.

“If people can’t afford £5 they can pay £3, it’s not set in stone. Whatever they can afford.”

The choir’s longest-serving member is Maggie McHugh, of Blackbird Leys, who joined eight years ago after the death of her husband Eugene.

She said: “When my husband died I needed something to inspire me.

“I’ve always enjoyed classical music and singing so I joined the choir. I was very nervous at first, but I thoroughly enjoy it.

“It’s made a big difference in my life. I’ve made lots of nice friends.”

The Blackbird Leys Choir rehearse for two hours every Wednesday at the Blackbird Leys Community Centre in Blackbird Leys Road from 6.30pm.

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