NORTHWICH'S biggest and best known choir is to fold after one final peformance.
Smaller audiences, dwindling numbers of choristers and the costs of staging star-studded concerts have all contributed to the decision by Northwich and District Festival Choir to disband next month.
But to ensure the group goes out on a high, opera singers Helena Leonard and Ian Comboy, who both come from Northwich and started their singing carers with the choir, will take part in the swan-song at Northwich Memorial Hall next Wednesday.
Music for the farewell fanfare will be supplied by the Cardiff-based Westage Brass Band.
The choir has dominated the Mid Cheshire music scene since 1948, when Northwich's 'Mr Music', Cyril Dawes, decided to build on the success of a massed choir concert at the old London Road Methodist Church by inviting people to join a new singing group.
Northwich and District Festival Choir was launched with Cyril as its conductor and has been leading the town in song ever since.
In addition to nurturing a wealth of young talent, including Ian and Helena, who have sung with all the top opera companies, the choir was also responsible for bringing a host of international stars to Northwich including the soprano Joan Hammond and more recently the celebrated cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.
Cyril, who became the town's senior probation officer and was awarded the MBE for services to the community, was still conducting the choir up to four years ago when ill health forced him to hand over the baton to Jim Watson.
Nancy Dale, choir manager, said the decision to make the October concert their finale was taken at the annual meeting when concerns were raised about a number of problems.
These included the gradual reduction in choir numbers caused by older members retiring and not being replaced by younger people, the difficulty in achieving the size of audience needed to meet the costs of major works, and the reluctance of members to take over the work involved in promoting and financing projects from those who wished to retire from office.
Nancy added: 'At a subsequent poll, members were asked whether they wished the choir to carry on, or whether it would be better to cease activities now whilst financially viable and well regarded, rather than, if circumstances didn't change, slowly die over a period of time.
'It was decided to make the annual October performance, for which Westgate Brass had already been engaged as guest artistes, a farewell concert.
'The officers felt that as a choral society it was fitting that we should also have some singing guests and the two well- known artists Helena Leonard and Ian Comboy, who both started their singing as Festival Choir members, have agreed to take part in this special, if rather sad occasion.'
The choir hopes that all the friends who have supported it over the past 53 years will join it on October 3.
Tickets are £5 and can be obtained from the Memorial Hall or from Nancy on 42641.