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18th December 2015

Breathing new life into a classic song

Meet the ‘Breathless Choir’ – a group of singers who refuse to let their lung problems call the tune.

“It’s in tune!” With those words, choirmaster Gareth Malone draws shrieks of joy and excitement from one of the most unlikely singing groups ever assembled.

Malone, well-known for a series of television programmes on bringing choral music to new participants, has brought together a diverse new choir which includes people with cystic fibrosis, COPD, asthma – even first responders who suffered collapsed lungs in the wake of the 2001 attacks on New York City.

Aged between 12 and 92, they have two things in common: breathing difficulties and a passion for singing.

You would imagine that shortness of breath or limited control over breathing would immediately extinguish any hope of joining a choir – but the choirmaster and his singers didn’t see it that way.

“I’ve made it my life’s work to get unlikely people singing – that’s what we’re doing here,” Gareth explains.

As the video below shows, the group embarked on an incredible journey from dreaming about singing in public to taking their curtain call on stage at the Apollo Theatre in New York.

“I thought to myself: this is impossible,” said Laurence Reiss, a fireman whose lungs were clogged with dust when he was buried alive on September 11, 2001. “But Gareth was amazing – a magician. We all had a song in our hearts and he let it out. Gareth saw something in us we never knew was there.”

Many of the singers are dependent on oxygen machines to support their breathing. Seeing them sing and sway to the music on stage at a New York theatre is a truly arresting sight.

Their choice of song? ‘Every Breath You take’, originally released by The Police. For many the performance was a dream come true – a dream they thought died when doctors diagnosed chronic lung disease.

“I grew up singing,” says Evelin Alvarez-Flores. “Music has always been a passion of mine.” But a series of seizures and seemingly repeated hospitalisations almost ended the dream – and her life. “This project made me realise I could do things I never thought possible,” she says. “At times it was so tough I’d be lying down during rehearsals, just wheezing. But we did it.

The success of the Breathless Choir is reminiscent of the story we shared earlier this year about the talented 34-year-old who became an award-winning dancer despite having cystic fibrosis.

[WATCH Adam Young dance solo with an oxygen tank]