Music & More


The UK’s oldest competitive music and drama festival will be taking place locally in February 2023. Applications are now open for performers of all ages. Sheena Bronson reports

The Stratford and East London Music Festival (SELMF) offers the opportunity to perform and compete in one of the many instrumental, singing, speech and drama classes. The event was founded in 1882 by John Spencer Curwen, making it the UK’s oldest competitive music and drama festival.

With over 70 singing classes alone, there’s sure to be one that appeals – including classical, musical theatre, jazz, a class to perform a song that you have written yourself, popular music and 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, news reporting and humorous verse.

There are hundreds of classes to compete in, broken down into nine categories: choral singing, orchestra and bands, concerto, instrumental, piano, recorders, solo and ensemble singing and speech and drama.

On the final night of the festival, we hold the Young Musician of the Year competition, which showcases the best young musicians (pianists, vocalists and instrumentalists) aged 11 to 17 who have performed during the event.

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 professional adjudicators, as well as a certificate. Winning entrants often receive a cup and some a cash prize. The best young pianist can win £500.

SELMF is a charitable organisation and exists because of our brilliant team of dedicated volunteers. 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 2023 will take place during February half-term at St Mary’s Church in South Woodford (choirs, orchestras and bands) and at Redbridge Music Service in Hainault (all other music, speech and drama classes). For more information, visit wnstd.com/selmf