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Founder of Gorleston Community Choir dies

PUBLISHED: 17:13 15 September 2011

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JACKIE Whiting, founder and musical director of Gorleston Community Choir has died after a short illness at the age of 49.

But her wish that the 90-strong choir would continue is being fulfilled with her son, Christopher, taking over.

In the summer of 2008, long before Gareth Malone’s TV series, Jackie had the idea of forming a community choir that was not audition-based, did not insist on members reading music and was open to people of all ages and abilities who could come together for the simple joy of singing. This she achieved with remarkable success.

She envisaged a choir of 30 to 40 members but when the choir started in January 2009, with financial backing from the SeaChange Arts Trust as part of the ‘Big Sing’ initiative, she was overwhelmed by the response with over 60 people coming to the first meeting. The choir now has over 90 members.

The choir’s first song, You Raise Me Up, took six weeks to learn. The choir developed so much under her leadership and direction that they could learn a new song in one or two rehearsals. They had recorded two CDs, and Jackie was about to prepare them for their third before her illness.

Sarah James, executive director of SeaChange Arts, paid tribute to Jackie’s work: “It was because of Jackie’s energy and tenacity that the Gorleston choir got established and has flourished so much and I know they had a really busy public schedule of performances.”

“Jackie directed and conducted the choir with tremendous enthusiasm and passion and this reached out to all members of the choir.”

Husband Robert said: “The ethos of community was at the centre of everything Jackie did for the choir and, out of the social strength of the members, many friendships have been formed.”

When in hospital Jackie said she wanted the choir to continue. The choir agreed, and son Christopher will become musical director and conductor so that he can continue to lead the choir in the same spirit, and with the same values, as Jackie had. Sister Gill Whiley will continue to be technical director.

Jackie was born in Leeds and would have been 50 in November. After living in Leeds and then Swansea, she moved to Gorleston in her teens and went to Gorleston Grammar, now Lynn Grove High School.

She qualified as a journalist and, after working and living in Surrey for a time, moved back to Gorleston in the mid 80s moving into her own flat next door to Robert Whiting. The couple hit the national headlines when they married shortly afterwards since Jackie – already having the same surname as her husband – didn’t need to change it. The couple would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this week.

Christopher was born in December 1987, and gained a degree in music at the UEA and has just taken up a position as a music teacher. He is also musical director of Great Yarmouth Gilbert and Sullivan Society and rehearsal pianist for Yarmouth Choral Society as well as carrying out the similar role with the community choir.

Jackie had a variety of jobs before taking time out to do a law degree at the UEA, and gained her teaching qualification at City College Norwich.

She taught law at East Norfolk Sixth Form College for five years until 2010. In addition she also taught rock bass guitar to students and started a college choir. More recently she had just started training for the ministry.

Her final appearances with the choir was at Gorleston Pavilion in a show at the end of July, and the Gorleston Cliff Top Gala the following day. Shortly afterwards she was diagnosed with cancer from which she died on Monday, September 5, at the James Paget Hospital.

The funeral took place at St Andrew’s yesterday.

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