Who we are, and what we do
The Durham Singers was founded in the early 1970s in the tradition of other great chamber choirs around the UK. Our core aim is to put on concerts of largely unaccompanied music and to build an enthusiastic audience through imaginative programming and top-quality singing. But we also stage larger events in collaboration with a very high-quality professional period instrument orchestra, and we have built an important outreach programme through young singers from our region, many of whom go on to study at the country’s best music colleges. More recently, we have developed outreach activities with local schools: secondary school choirs have had the opportunity to sing with us; and our soloists and members of our orchestra have given workshops at primary schools.
We believe in concerts that are designed with rich musical variety, that take the audience on a musical journey. Our concerts try to make the point that sharing live music is still the best experience in music. Programmes such as our I’m a Pilgrim concert turn choral performance into a musical drama as we weave together works from different periods to tell a story. Preparing and performing these programmes that weave together unaccompanied music from over five centuries is our core activity.
As a choir, we have built a strong relationship with a fully professional period-instrument chamber ensemble, made up of outstanding players from around the UK who support us in a major work each autumn at Durham Cathedral. The combination of a large chamber choir and a period chamber orchestra playing soloistically and colourfully works well in the particular space of the Cathedral; we believe this offers something unique in Durham. For the choir, the excitement of performing at this level has driven our passion for great oratorios performed in fresh ways.
Outreach and education
Our musical outreach works on two levels. When possible and appropriate (and reserving some solo opportunities for choir members), the musical director invites talented young singers from our region to work with us. The opportunity to have their voices nurtured, their musical insights developed through careful coaching, and their confidence built up by performing in one of the iconic buildings in the UK, is matched by the boost they gain from working alongside respected professional period instrumentalists; these are rare opportunities for younger singers, and we seek out opportunities to develop the education of the best young singers and musicians in our region.
Our work with school-age children is even more important. We offer free seats to parties of schoolchildren at all concerts and we have built collaborative ventures with local schools and youth choirs, begining with Britten’s Noye’s Fludde in 2013, supported by the Britten-Pears Foundation, and more recently through our participation in The Great Charter, a community opera commissioned by Durham Cathedral in 2015. The Durham Johnston School Chamber Choir and the Durham County Youth Choir have both joined us in our oratorio concerts, giving secondary-school children the opportunity to experience singing with an orchestra and we have developed an imaginative outreach programme to take our soloists and instrumentalists into local primary schools to give workshops. In 2015 a number of local primary schools took part in an art and music project inspired by Haydn’s Creation – culminating in the unforgettable experience of seeing several hundred young children singing The Heavens Are Telling with our orchestra at the final rehearsal in Durham Cathedral.
Music-making in Durham
Durham is fortunate in having a knowledgeable audience for choral music, a wonderful building in which to perform, and a wide range of excellent choirs of all sizes, including undergraduate consort groups, the Cathedral Choir and the city and university choral societies. The Durham Singers have a special place in this rich choral world: there is no other group that both sings a wide-ranging unaccompanied repertory but also has the resource base and administrative expertise to fund major works with a top-level professional chamber orchestra.
Our unaccompanied repertoire forms the core of our activity and requires a high standard of musicianship. Our members come from a wide variety of musical backgrounds: some are music teachers, some sing with other choirs in the region, others have a background in church, university and other amateur choirs; but we are united in our love of singing, and we greatly enjoy the rapid turnover of repertoire, the challenge of complex eight-part music and the breadth of musical styles – as well as the special performances, which are always moving or dramatic. If this excites you too, we’d love to hear from you.
To find out more about our past concerts and future plans, please visit the concerts section of our website.