Blackbird Leys Choir is a mixed-voice choir of about 15 enthusiastic amateur singers. The nature of the choir’s formation — as a project to get ordinary members of the community singing in a classical choir (see below) — means that most of its members are not from a musical background. Nevertheless, they still produce excellent results. We are keen to welcome new members to our choir, so please do get in touch if you would like to discuss joining.
The music performed by the choir is of an eclectic nature, which has previously included classical pieces from ancient (Bach’s Jesu Joy) to modern (Tavener’s The Lamb); folk songs (The Leaving of Liverpool) and shanties (John Kanaka); spirituals (Steal Away; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot), and pop songs (Money, Money, Money and Bridge over Troubled Water — among others).
Our current music director is Malcolm Atkins, who is the musician at Littlemore Church and is also an associate lecturer for the Open University, teaching music and the arts. In addition Malcolm is a composer and is introducing the choir to a range of his pieces and arrangements.
Blackbird Leys Choir was founded in January 2006 for a documentary series called The Singing Estate to be aired on Five during the Summer of that year. The programme featured conductor Ivor Setterfield, who auditioned over one hundred aspiring amateur singers from around the Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys estates in Oxford, selecting forty of them to begin a quest to become a classical choir in just three months. During the course of the programme the choir performed in Oxford and visited Italy, before appearing in a televised performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The choir was sponsored by Fivearts Cities — an initiative aimed to encourage people to participate in and enjoy the arts — for a further year after the filming ended, and gave several performances under the musical directorship of the Oxford Philomusica and chorus director Andrew Stewart. In December 2006 Andrew and eighteen members of the choir attended an Achievers of the Year reception at Buckingham Palace, where they performed Handel’s Hallelujah chorus in a private performance for the Queen. In January 2007 Ivor Setterfield was briefly reunited with the choir for a performance of Hallelujah at Oxford’s Town Hall with a few hundred singers from other choirs around the city. This was featured in a ‘one year on’ documentary aired as a follow-up to The Singing Estate.
Andrew remained with the choir for two years during which they performed with the Oxford Philomusica at the local BMW factory and twice at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre with guest soloists (including Julian Lloyd Webber), and in their own right at a number of venues including the Ashmolean Museum and several local churches. The choir’s flagship piece during this period was Blackbird which had been specially commissioned from composer Orlando Gough by Oxford Philomusica on the choir’s behalf. Andrew’s farewell performance with the choir was a Christmas concert at Holy Trinity church, Headington in December 2008.
In October 2008 Andrew expressed his intention to leave the choir, and Trevor Davies was appointed as the new musical director. Having unfortunately missed the December 2008 concert owing to ill health, Trevor has led the choir at a number of successful events throughout 2009, including a joint performance with the Band of the Prince of Wales Division at Dorchester Abbey in aid of SSAFA Forces Help and — in August — several performances in Oxford’s twin town Leiden in the Netherlands as part of the Rapenburg music festival.
Five years on from the initial auditions the choir — still going strong and with a renewed enthusiasm following a successful workshop day event — put on a glittering birthday celebration concert in the Jacqueline du Pré building, one of Oxford’s premier classical music venues. This concert featured a full performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria played to a full house. Among the VIPs present was our original conductor Ivor, who was persuaded to step in and sing one of the solo movements. We also welcomed Andrew as a guest choir member.
The success of this concert led the choir to perform numerous concerts in various churches in Oxfordshire featuring the Gloria and other classical pieces. In other church concerts during the run-up to Christmas the choir has also performed Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. More recently the choir has developed a programme of lighter music, featuring traditional songs and also some pop-music numbers.
In 2013 the choir was invited to provide the backing for a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which was presented by a community group in Blackbird Leys and put on in the local Church of the Holy Family. The choir has retained an association with this group and joined in again when it put on a production of Rock Nativity in December of that year.
At the end of 2013, Trevor Davies left the choir and we were pleased to appoint Elisabeth Brierley, a Music student from Magdalen College (University of Oxford) as our conductor. During her term, Elisabeth taught the choir to sing several folk and world-music pieces from memory and led us in several successful concerts in the beautiful and intimate setting of Magdalen College chapel. After a year and a term, Elisabeth left us to take her final exams, and we wish her well in her future career.
In May 2015, Sarah Lister took up the role. Sarah is a choral conductor, organist and pianist, and was the organist at St Frideswide Church in Oxford (latterly at Blackfriars). She led us through several successful concerts as well as helping with the choir’s general musical education.
From September 2016 to July 2017 our musical director was Tim Coleman, an experienced chorister and music freelancer. Tim left us to go to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. We then had three years with Santiago Piñeros-Serrano, a Colombian conductor and pianist. Santiago is Assistant Conductor for Oxford Brookes University Orchestra, and was also acting as Music Director for Holy Family Church in Blackbird Leys.