Who we are, and what we do
As one of the North East’s leading amateur classical music ensembles, the Durham Singers brings together some 35 singers from around the region for high-quality performances of music from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century. Founded in 1972, the choir puts on concerts in and around Durham City, with a repertoire that ranges from the great polyphonic works of the Renaissance through to exciting contemporary music. We have built an enthusiastic audience through imaginative programming and top-quality singing. We have also staged larger events in association with a very high-quality professional period instrument orchestra, and built an important outreach programme with young singers from our region through collaboration with Samling Institute for Young Artists, and activities with local schools.
We’ve performed further afield, too. Having hosted a choir from Tübingen in Germany, who visited Durham and gave a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Durham Cathedral, the Durham Singers made a return visit to Tübingen to open the 2018/19 season of Motette concerts at the Stiftskirche, with a programme that was also performed at the beautiful Schloss Solitude near Stuttgart.
We believe in concerts which contain rich musical variety, which take the audience on a musical journey and which make the point that sharing live singing and instrumental playing is still the best experience in music. While our members come from a wide variety of musical backgrounds, we are united in our love of singing and we greatly enjoy the rapid turnover of repertory, the challenge of complex eight- or even forty-part music, and the breadth of musical styles.
In October 2021, after the restrictions of the Covid pandemic, we performed a smaller-scale concert of four-part music at Ushaw College, and in March 2022, we presented a dramatic and very special concert of music by J. S. Bach as a farewell to our former music director, Julian Wright. This year is the 50th anniversary of The Durham Singers, which we promise to celebrate in style.
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.