NO ONE could accuse Ewa Salecka of holding back when she moved to York. Barely had the Polish musician, vocalist and composer unpacked after arriving in the city last year than she decided to set up a community choir, working with her partner Greg Birch, pianist, singer and her accompanist.

Ewa decided that York’s new contemporary choir should be called Millegro. She coined the name herself. “It’s from a Spanish word meaning ‘miraculous’ and ‘wonderful vision’ and then ‘allegro’,” says Ewa, during an interview in the café at York Theatre Royal.

Greg and Ewa met in London and moved to York, where Greg had been a student, after enjoying a mini-break in the city. They fell in love with the place more or less immediately, they say, and were struck by what Greg describes as “a great sense of community in York”.

“When we came to York we realised there was an undercurrent of cultural awareness,” he says. “And we thought that if people took part in the choir, they would be more aware of the wider cultural output. We wanted to generate this awareness for a larger audience.”

They set about doing this by launching Millegro, a choir open to the experienced and the inexperienced; those who think they can sing and those who fear they almost certainly can do no such thing.

Your interviewer, who definitely falls discordantly into the latter category, asks Ewa if she can really teach anyone to sing in a choir. She believes so. “I read a statistic recently that there are only two per cent of people who are tone deaf,” she says, optimistically.

So there’s hope for us all.

The members of Millegro, who number more than 60, can certainly sing, as was illustrated at their sold-out debut performance, which took place at St Olave’s Church, in Marygate, last November.

Many members overcame their understandable nerves to perform to a packed church, led on by their musical director.

“The choir has been successful and that’s down to Ewa and her determination, her personality, her vivacity and her skill with vocal techniques,” says Greg.

And it is true that in concert, she is out there, driving everything along with passion and more than a dash of flamboyance.

Ewa says she is keen on concerts being lively, dynamic and not merely singers standing around awkwardly in a church. She leads from the front with her expressive, propulsive ways, coaxing a full and at times complex sound from her singers, many of whom were previously more or less complete novices.

The concert wasn’t perfect, the perfectionist in Ewa feels bound to point out, but she was still thrilled with the result.

“We wish to create something that is otherwise from what people usually associate with choirs,” she says. “It’s been such a success… we have made sure we do different things, so people get the opportunity to perform jazz, world music and modern arrangements.”

The next big challenge for the choir is a concert at York Theatre Royal, on Wednesday, May 26. Further appearances include York Carnival in June and then a prominent slot at this summer’s Hebden Bridge Festival.

The Theatre Royal concert, entitled Sure On This Shining Night, will feature music from Vivaldi, Bernstein and Astor Piazzolla to The Beatles, plus modern world music songs.

Choir members are often challenged by the chosen pieces, and by the rigours of singing.

“People have the chance to do something difficult and to prove themselves,” Greg says. “We really want people to experience something magical and wonderful – and seeing their faces light up in rehearsals is fantastic.”

Ewa adds: “And often it is the harder songs that people end up saying are their favourites, once they have learned them.”

For Ewa, the choir is a full-time job, working with the music, the parts, and organising the rehearsal sessions, along with publicity, arranging performances, and dealing with the deluge of emails.

Both like the way the choir has spawned its own community, with members staging impromptu rehearsals without being asked, arranging walks together or meeting up for drinks.

“We are lucky to have so many fantastic people, such a great combination of people from all different backgrounds,” says Ewa.

Greg adds: “People tell us that the choir is the highlight of their week and they really don’t want to miss rehearsals.”

The likes of Ewa and Greg don’t sit still for long. Their plans for Millegro include a winter concert, probably in November, and they would like to take the choir into a recording studio.

And there is the small matter of starting another choir – this one to be based in Huntington.

So many people wanted to join Millegro – and are still asking to join, even though membership is now closed – Ewa and Greg have just set up Prima Vocal Ensemble, which will meet weekly on Tuesdays, at the New Earswick Indoor Bowls Club, in Huntington Road. The idea is to build as big a choir as possible.

Ewa’s dream is “to get 200 people on stage and to do a big concert”.

On the present evidence, you wouldn’t put it past her.

The Theatre Royal York concert on May 26 will also feature Dave Smyth on percussion and saxophonist Tim Twomey.

All proceeds from programme sales will go to Jessie’s Fund.

For tickets, phone 01904 623568.

Further details: