Derry Choral Festival Continues to Hit the High Notes
With five days of inclusive performances and international competition, this year's concert series builds further on the city's singing tradition
In just its fourth year the festival has built on a successful inaugural outing during Derry~Londonderry's year as UK City of Culture in 2013. Last year it attracted up to 12,000 people to events.
The festival has built on a tradition of choral music in the city, coupled with a relationship that the city has forged with musical competition in the local feis over generations.
The festival will be hard to escape in the city between October 19 and 23. Between competitions, concerts, a choral trail, a scared trail in a variety of churches, community concerts and a symposium, there will be dozens of performances at almost 40 different venues ranging from cathedrals to shopping centres in Derry and Strabane.
As well as The Sixteen, a touring choir that has made over 140 recordings, highlights of the festival include German a cappella group Slixs, who will present their mix of jazz, pop, funk and classical, and Fauna – an all-female Norwegian vocal ensemble.
For artistic director Dónal Doherty, that demonstrates the reach of the festival. 'It is genuinely on the world map for those choirs that want to attend international choral festivals,' he says. 'And it is obvious from our track record, including past winners and the international standard of adjudicators that we have attracted, that it is recognised and acknowledged by choirs who make a point of going to festivals right around the world.'
Choirs, including school choirs, can perform in competition or decide to perform non-competitively. This is an important element of the festival for Doherty.
While the festival has built on a musical tradition in Derry that has always supported a healthy choral scene, it has also encouraged choirs to form as well as coaching existing choirs out of those drafty halls. The festival would not work without the support of the local choirs, Doherty insists.
Doherty is a renowned organist and choir master and has been immersed in the environment of choral music for most of his life. His achievements include helping the establishment of Two Cathedrals’ Festival in Derry in 1992 and the City of Derry Civic Choirs in 1997.
As a music educator, he was appointed head of music services for the western region in 1996 and assumed responsibility for the southern region in 2011. He oversaw the delivery of the Music Promise initiative as part of the inaugural UK City of Culture programme.
While 2013 provided the creative environment, and as importantly the funding, he had never intended it to be just a one-off for City of Culture. It was as founder and director of Codetta, the Derry-based internationally recognised chamber choir, that the vision of an international choral festival based in Derry began to crystallise.
The experience gained from over ten years of travelling to international competitions and Doherty’s own experience as a conductor and adjudicator helped to establish the festival and attract choirs and adjudicators from around the world.
'The experience we would have gained by attending festivals, we have brought that experience back, because really the festival at its heart is run by the members of Codetta. It was an ambition that we had as a group and that has manifested itself now – 2013 gave us the excuse and we have pushed on.'
'We constantly have to seek support from funders whether that be in the public sector or private sector, but no international festival of this calibre can continue without that support and Tourism NI recognises the benefits that accrue from so many people visiting the city.'
For Doherty, it is the simple joy of singing with a group of people that is at the heart of the festival. 'It’s the social thing of being together with people with a shared vision or focus,' he says. 'That could be playing football, it could knitting, it could be doing anything. But the added element of singing is that it is such a physical thing.
'You are using your body in a very physical way, it is energising in that sense. Then invariably what you get is that whatever effort you make, the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. That’s the experience.'
The fourth City of Derry International Choral Festival takes place in venues throughout the city from October 19 - 23. For detailed event information and ticket booking visit www.codichoral.com or from the Millennium Forum box office www.millenniumforum.co.uk.