New era for Petworth's Leconfield Singers

Jeannie Whitman Esdaile
Jeannie Whitman Esdaile

The Leconfield Singers enter the New Year with a new chairman, with Jeannie Whitman Esdaile stepping down after two and a half years in post.

Jeannie will very much remain part of the choir, but the chairman’s duties now fall to Rachel Townsend.

Jeannie loved being chairman and all the challenges that it brought: “But I have got commitments at work, and it was time. I just needed to let go of some of my responsibilities. I just got to the point where I just wanted to sing and not count heads and be making lists and writing letters!”

She is confident, though, that she is handing over the choir in good heart.

“It has been hard work because of the pressure, but first of all I would say that being chairman has been enjoyable. You are dealing with just under a hundred people at any given time, but it is really like an extended family.

“And it is great. We go on tour. We sang at the Royal Festival Hall again, and you are doing the publicity and you are trying to get support from companies. And you have got to be good! That’s the hard work, the pressure. But the group is just so dedicated. Once you have excelled, you just want to keep at it!

“At any time of the year people are going to be off with colds or with family issues, and you have got to make sure that you fill the slot. But everyone does it with such enthusiasm and love.

“We have got men and women in the choir. We have got four parts, sometimes more than four parts. The tenors can split, the basses can split and so on. And we have got a range of ages. It’s probably more towards older people, but we have also got young mothers who are shuffling children around, and we have also got an octogenarian or two. And everyone is so supportive.

“But we have also got people of different backgrounds. We have got people that can read music beautifully, but the majority don’t read music, and they work very hard. We always welcome newcomers. Anybody that comes in will get a buddy to make sure that they are singing in the right comfort zone for their voice.

“We have had some fantastic events. We have had two tours. We went to Prague and we sang in three cathedrals. We did the same last year in Brittany, and it is great to have that international experience. It is a binding experience. You are so much more aware of working together. You are out of your comfort zone. You don’t really know anybody in the audience particularly, and it gives you a good opportunity to loosen up but also to be so professional.

“You do other things on tour, but you have to focus on the performance that day. You are always focusing on the fact that you are going to have to perform. But also I think the touring makes you closer.

“And we are so lucky to have Graham (Wili as music director). He is a perfectionist. He fusses at us when he needs to, but nobody ever hesitates to raise their hand to ask him a question. There is comfort in always being able to inquire about what we need to do. You just know that he will always answer your problems. He is very approachable.

“And he always gets good soloists to join us for our big events. He has got very good contacts. A couple of years ago we sang the Mozart Requiem in the cathedral in Chichester. Graham is able to bring in really good soloists when he needs to and also really good instrumentalists. If you are doing something as big as The Dream of Gerontius, we combined with our two sister choirs, and it was just unbelievable.”

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