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A lifelong passion for music

Shirley (front row, first left) and the Love to Sing choir.
Shirley (front row, first left) and the Love to Sing choir. / SUR
  • Shirley Helleur, the head of Manilva's Love to Sing Choir talks to SUR in English ahead of a Broadway-themed fundraising concert next Friday in Estepona

It's fair to say that music has been a life long passion for Manilva resident Shirley Helleur. Born in Leicester, she grew up in the city and at the age of 18 went on to study music at the University of Hull.

Shirley then work as a secondary school music teacher for three decades in a number of English cities, including Loughborough, Colchester, Plymouth, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

But as well as teaching countless up-and-coming musicians for 30 years, the youthful 67-year-old also spent her spare time singing in choirs, conducting and playing the tenor horn in brass bands.

In 2005 Shirley retired and decided to move to Malta with her family, where she got heavily involved in the local music scene.

Speaking to SUR in English, the mother-of-two, said: "I'd been to Malta when I was 13 on a Mediterranean cruise and I always felt a pull for it. So when we got the chance we moved there. My husband and I were very happy there.

"We lived in Mellieha, where there were two bands, an orchestra and a choir, and that was just in a very small village. That was pretty normal for every village in Malta and Gozo.

"I played the trumpet in orchestras and in the local bands. I also conducted a local ladies' choir in the village and I sang in one of the Maltese choirs, and then I went on to conduct one.

"I played the piano for an opera teacher and I did a lot in the company of opera singers and instrumentalists. I was very involved in the music world in Malta and Gozo."

As for the highlight of her music career, Shirley said it has been teaching.

"The highlight for me is when I see how well the pupils have done. Also my son Alex in Malta is a professional musician and plays the trumpet, saxophone, keyboard and is a DJ and composer. My daughter Merryn is also a talented musician, although she doesn't do it now."

In 2017 Shirley and her husband Andre (who is also a trumpeter) moved to the Costa del Sol to be closer to their daughter, who moved to Gibraltar for work.

So it came as no surprise that Shirley quickly found herself involved in the expat music scene in Manilva by starting the international community choir, Love to Sing.

Shirley and her partner started attending the expat social club Let's Meet Manilva, as they didn't know anyone in the area when they first arrived.

She explained: "A woman called Deborah Young said it would be great to have a local community choir in the area, and I said, 'Actually, I can do that,' and that's how it happened. I was just in the right place at the right time."

Shirley, now the Musical Director of the Love to Sing Choir, said they have around 60 members.

She added: "It's definitely a community choir, so everybody is welcome as long as they give the commitment. They are not all the best singers, but if they commit they will improve and we have got some very good singers and musicians.

"The choir is not just British though, we have lots of nationalities - Swedish, Norwegian, Argentinian, American, New Zealanders, Irish and a lot of Dutch. It's quite a multinational choir and we use English as the basic language."

As for what's next on the choir's busy schedule, they are putting on a fundraising concert in aid of a local Spanish girl - Sarah Almagro - who lost her hands and feet to a lethal bacteria in July last year.

The concert, next Friday 8 November, will feature hits from musicals and Hollywood films including Chicago, Guys and Dolls and Skyfall.

Shirley, who also sings with the Sotogrande Camerata choir, explained: "We did one last year at a similar time which was a sell out, so we are repeating the idea again. It's a group of people that have worked extremely hard for 12 months who love their music and want to pass on their love of singing to other people. So it should be an evening where people can sit back, relax and enjoy."