The show goes on

A performer in last year’s Stratford and East London Music FestivalA performer in last year’s Stratford and East London Music Festival

Having launched over a century ago, the Stratford and East London Music Festival is now a regular fixture in the local area, giving performers of all ages the chance to compete. Lisa Sharp reports.

The Stratford and East London Music Festival (SELMF) offers the ideal opportunity for performers of any age and of all abilities to perform and compete in one of the many music and speech and drama classes. The event was founded in 1882 by John Spencer Curwen, making it the UK's oldest music and drama festival – now in its 136th year.

With over 70 singing classes alone, there's sure to be one that appeals – from classical, musical theatre, jazz, a class to perform a song that you have written yourself, popular music to recitals. There are also more than 50 speech and drama classes to choose from for individuals, duets and groups in classes for poetry, acting, storytelling and comedy.

There are hundreds of classes to compete in, broken down into nine categories: choral singing, orchestra and bands; concerto; instrumental classes; millennium competition; piano; recorders; solo and ensemble singing; singing; and speech and drama. There is also a young musician of the year award, made up of 10 young musicians – pianists, vocalists and instrumentalists – aged 11 to 17 years who have been chosen on the basis of their performance during the event. It is held on the last night of the festival and is always a showcase for talent.

Back in 1882, the entry fee for the first festival was 2s 6d (12p) for solo performers, 5s 0d (25p) for quartets and 10s 0d (50p) for choirs. Originally, it was only open to those who lived in Stratford, Leyton, Wanstead, Walthamstow, Woodford, Plaistow, Forest Gate, Canning Town, Victoria Docks and Leytonstone. Now, musicians and actors come to the festival from the local area and beyond to perform and compete in a friendly and supportive environment. As well as enjoying the excitement of competing at the festival, all entrants receive feedback and tips from experienced adjudicators, as well as winning a range of awards, from collectable certificates to button badges, medals and cash prizes.

SELMF is a charitable organisation and exists because of our brilliant team of dedicated volunteers. And we would appreciate any additional help you may be able to offer, either with your time or with donations to help towards our running costs. Becoming a Friend of the Festival for just £10 gives you free entry to all the competitions, plus a free programme. Or if you fancy donating a silver trophy for aspiring performers, we would love to hear from you.

The Stratford and East London Music Festival 2019 will take place on 11 and 12 February at St Mary's Church in South Woodford (choirs, orchestras and bands) and from 18 to 23 February at Forest School in Snaresbrook (all other music, speech and drama classes). The closing date for entries is 13 January. For more information, visit

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