Christmas with Durham Cathedral Choir

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Things to do


Date of travel

December, 2016

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Christmas is a special time of year if you consider yourself a Christian.

This is the second time that we have traveled the short distance to our County Town in December to witness a special experience in its most famous building.

My review however is not about the magnificent Durham Cathedral, but the special one off performance that is described as “Christmas with Durham Cathedral Choir” which we were privileged to witness.

Tickets usually go on sale in early October and the best seats go very quickly indeed, but to be honest it doesn’t matter where you sit, as this is not a visual experience at all, but an extra special extravaganza of sound.

This special fundraising concert is held every year in support of Music at Durham Cathedral and it is a virtual sell out every year.

This year it featured the Cathedral Choir, Organists James Lancelot and Francesca Massey, the Reg Vardy Brass Band and the world famous Bulgarian Harpist, Venera Bojkova.

The music was of the highest quality, although judging by the number of people who left at the interval the choices of music made in the first half were clearly a bit funereal and less seasonal that some were expecting.

As a former chorister at a high church in Oxfordshire, I found the experience reminiscent of my youth, particularly as a soprano soloist in some of the more familiar Christmas Carols.

The acoustics within the ancient walls of this magnificent building are custom made for choristers and ancient instruments like the harp, but the clever and talented masons who put this place together could not have imagined the sound that is produced by a band that was formed by miners who dug out the coal from beneath or close to its foundations.

The sound created by the Reg Vardy Brass Band (formed in 1910 as the Craghead Colliery Band) was loud and truly magnificent, and a particularly poignant piece was the Last Post played faultlessly from high in the Cathedrals pulpit by a young and talented musician who’s name, unfortunately, was not publicised.

Towards the end of the programme we were treated to the more familiar and traditional Christmas Carols which the audience enthusiastically joined in with.

This event remains as popular as ever, but judging by quite large sections of the audience that left the building at the interval, the Musical Director might think about replacing some of the more ancient chants with some more familiar and modern festive music which might ease some of the inevitable posterior pain caused by ancient wooden pews!

Colin Wills

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