Durham Cathedral Choir Association

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It is to the eternal credit of our Cathedral’s musicians, James Lancelot and Keith Wright that in 2003 they began to take the Cathedral Choristers into schools in Sunderland to visit primary schools, to sing to them and introduce choral music to children who may never have experienced anything like it. In 2005 the government gave recognition to the value of this type of work and the fact that nationally there was a shortage of teachers able to introduce children to choral music, and set up the Chorister Outreach Programme. Forty-three Cathedrals nationally took part in this. In 2007 funding was given for “Sing Up”, and this enabled James Randle and Mark Anyan to form a Saturday choir, DCYS. Children in many different circumstances and of widely different talents were given the chance to widen their experiences, and the programme opened a whole new musical world to thousands of children”.

Government funding is no longer available for such schemes, but our Cathedral’s musicians are determined to continue such valuable work, and James Lancelot, Francesca Massey and David Ratnanayagam continue to take choristers into schools to inspire children in all circumstances, and give them the life-enhancing experience of choral singing.

Mish Kelly was appointed Director of the Outreach Programme in 2008 to follow up the introduction by our Cathedral’s musicians.

This is what Mish says about the work of the outreach programme

My task was to manage and deliver music workshops in 24 schools a year culminating in termly concerts, and to developing DCYS on Saturday mornings as a spin off from these concerts. A high standard of music-making was required of the local school children, with the Boy and eventually Girl Choristers acting as role models in order to raise the academic and social aspirations of children in the catchment of Durham Cathedral.

The children over the years have tackled all sorts of pieces; Gregorian Chant - Veni Creator Spiritus; Te Lucis Ante; Bach - Bist du bei mir, Prepare thyself Zion from the Christmas Oratorio, and the tenor solo from Sleeper's Wake, complete with Swingle Singers style vocal accompaniment; Mozart’s Ave Verum, and the Laudate Dominum; Petoni’s Cantate Domino; Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus; Faure’s Pie Jesu amongst others. Many of the pieces gave choristers a chance to sing solo against the mass ritornello - I was blown away by Honor Halford-McCleod and Sarah Dover singing the eerie Tenor solo from Britten’s War Requiem “One ever hangs’ against our massed children singing Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi. The innocence of all the young voices in such an earth-shattering aria gave the piece an extra edge.

The Choristers themselves always enjoyed  the outreach mornings where we visited and rehearsed with local schools. There was obviously some element of delight at missing a normal morning of school, and the pleasure of taking centre stage when the school children - rapt and more silent than I generally hear them, finally realise what young voices can really do. My outreach schools, both the children and the teachers are thunderstruck by what a small group of 6 choristers can do. From the chorister’s point of view I am sure singing with non-choristers brings home how much they gin from a chorister life and training. The few weeks’ rehearsal after the chorister visits were always of a higher standard from my children - as they had an inkling of what they could achieve if they tried.

As the project developed, and was clearly valued by schools and the children and their parents, it became clear that more targeted aims and objectives were needed to support the community.

1 - We sought to support teachers in schools themselves musically, both music specialists and non-specialists.

We wished to develop the workforce for our own staff, and to offer similar support for any teachers in the community. The schools’ project incorporated a weekly teacher twilight session to develop the teachers’ confidence in their singing, and give them useful repertoire they could use in the classroom, and at the school concerts. An added bonus was that every schools’ concert had a teacher’s choir item, generally 2/3 parts-always beautiful in tune, and always heartfelt. The children were mesmerised that their teachers could sing, and we felt it was imperative that children saw adults could sing, enjoyed it - and that singing was not something that stopped hen you went into secondary school.

2 - We wished to learn from current successful music education trends and apply them to our own situation.

Taking our cue from the National Youth Choir of Scotland we wanted to develop DCYS’ music reading skills. NYCoS are about 25 years ahead of us here in England - and have devised a music -reading scheme based on Kodaly principles (using do-re-mi, called solfa), where rhythm and pitch are taught from a very young age as games. Lucinda Geoghegan came to give a two-day workshop for our Outreach, Chorister School, and any Cathedral staff who might be interested. We opened the workshop up to all teachers from the local community - and were delighted when 21 spent their two days internalising mad music games, many of which taxed our own sense of co-ordination. What was glorious about the two days was the range of abilities amongst those attending - from Cathedral Lay Clerk and Assistant Organist, to able amateur musicians, to teachers who had never read music in their lives. All gained an insight into what was possible, the musicians learnt that Kodaly ‘worked’ as the non-musicians began to pick up basic music reading skills in the limited time they had. Outreach continues to maintain contact with NYCoS and Lucinda, there is an on-going invitation to come and watch Christopher Bell and Lucinda at work with choirs in Edinburgh, Mish Kelly has attended NYCoS summer school in Edinburgh, and twice accompanied NYCoS staff out to Hungary to observe music teaching in their primary, secondary schools and in their youth choirs.

The class music teaching in Hungary is second to none - but needs to be adapted for use in our culture; their singing schools (they have over 50 across the country) are perfectly normal state primary and secondary schools, but every child in the school has a music lesson a day. Not something we can instantly copy over here. They justify this by demonstrating that a good musician needs to train his mind, his heart, his emotional/social sensitivity, as well as simply his finger dexterity. This is a training for the whole child - and has a ricochet effect on all aspects of a child’s academic development. As this parallels our Christian philosophy here at the Cathedral we are proud to be able to develop children in their entirety - spiritually, emotionally, academically, socially as well as considering their musical development.

We set the activities for the year so that there is a variety of things for the children to take part in, the emphasis being on enjoyment. Some events are voluntary, such as the In-House singing exam at the beginning oif May. Concerts and event this year have involved a number of Christmas concerts - the Friends’ Concert included Minstrels (see below) - their first public outing, 3 informal concerts in the Cathedral, Music for Youth Festival in Gateshead in February, an exciting BBC broadcast in Good Friday, Evensong in May with DCYS parents supporting by singing Alto, Tenor and Bass with great confidence, and two ‘operas’ to finish off the summer term, accompanied by a small group of instrumentalists for each production.

3 - With siblings of current outreach children showing an interest in the Saturday morning DCYS we expanded the age range of our choirs. We started a younger group called Minstrels for 5-7 years olds, and an early teens group called Vox

As many siblings of DCYS singers wanted their own singing group we started ‘Minstrels’ from 5-7 years old. We have 3 groups of Minstrels, with no more than 15 children in each group. Like DCYS they also meet on a Saturday morning, and indulge in games, songs and recently a piece of music drama. Where DCYS will generally produce 3/4 performances of a more or less formal nature a term, we are careful not to overburden Minstrels with performances, we do not wish to tire them, and want to keep the excitement of concerts without putting too much stress on them. They take part - all three groups together - in termly informal concert in the Cathedral. The emphasis is on the musical games, vocal control, choral discipline and developing an understanding of how rhythms and pitch works.

Once children hit the ages of 5 and 6 the song-games which they know and have internalised are gradually given sol fa syllables, rhythm syllables (Indian table music is taught in this fashion). More complex games - very like musical crosswords - encourage the children gradually to recognise the notes from hand signs, then pictures (dog for crotchet, two small puppies for quavers etc) then squiggles and eventually notes on a page. It is always a joy to watch the children grow in confidence with their music reading, realise they find something easy and ask for more challenging music. It also helps with their eventual introduction into the Training Choir in DCYS itself.

At the older end of the scale, Vox started as so many of the boys were too young to join Durham Youth Choir once they leave us, and were often the only lad in their secondary school who wanted to sing - sot they gave up rather than be teased. It started very small indeed - with 5 singers aged 12-14; last year Vox had 12-14 singers and now in its fourth year we have expanded to over 16. There is now an equal number of boys to girls, and the group sings in 3 parts; S A & Men, sometimes 4 parts - SATB. It is a big jump from DCYS, and children aren’t automatically fed into Vox, they know they have to be able to read reasonably well; if they can’t they must be willing to learn quickly. Last year 4 members of the group asked me if they could try for Grade 1 theory - all achieved merit or distinction, on a term’s work. One of the candidates doesn’t play an instrument - she had nothing to relate the concepts to, other than the Kodaly work we had done - and she has now mastered Key signatures, Bass clef as well as Treble, triads and intervals, answering phrases, Italian terminology. The joy for me is to see that she wants to go on an tackle Grade 2. She is fired up, can now make sense of the music she is reading from and wants to learn more. It is for people like her that we teach....

4 - We wished to meet some of the social demands within the North East community - notably though developing music in the Early Years, and as such to train up practitioners who would be expert in Early Years music making.

A number of issues came together to suggest we needed to consider music for the Early Years;

a - parents of DCYS children started asking about choirs for younger siblings,

b - music enjoyment - like learning a language, is best started young,

c - it would be useful to have small number of 5-7 year olds start at DCYS with an idea of rhythm, pitch, good choral discipline and strong singing voices,

d - we could pin-point potential good singers from a young age, and foster them, should they be interested in choristership,

e - I have had the misfortune of observing a lot of music teaching from good musicians who are totally hopeless with small children, full of good will but not trained in Early Years’ Philosophy,

f - as a Christian institution we wish to be inclusive, children and families are as important to us as any other demographic

We were determined to do this properly, and so again invited an expert in her field up to Durham to lead workshops in Early Years teaching. Karen McKenzie from Colourstrings Kindergarten spent a week with three of our staff, head of Primary Music at Durham Teacher Training establishment, and eight other teachers from the local area. She covered a mini teacher training, encompassing the Childhood Development in the first five years of life, philosophy of Early Years’ teaching from Piaget to current day, and then showed how Kodaly’s system could be applied to games for the very young. She shared an enormous amount of music and playful material that could be used in workshops with children and their parents.

Outreach then immediately established the Chimes groups with Clare Crinson leading them - Chimes II fro 2-3.5 and Chimes III from 3.5-5 year old Children. We had a small Chimes I class for babies to 2 year olds at St Giles, were I Gather a mute 2 year old started to talk for the first time, but many of the families moved away from the area, and we have now amalgamated the younger group with Chimes II. Clare has no had a full year with the groups, they are growing in number and we are getting emails asking to join - with us doing minimal recruitment. Katherine Warton has established at Trimdon Grange a class for 2 year olds, which Simon Lee leads, as is so taken with their development that she had found funding to continue it, and asked for Simon to take a second weekly class as well. In addition she buses a number of her Y1/2 pupils into Minstrels on Saturday morning. If we could find funding to open classes in other schools around the county, the social support and potential training of teachers within these nurseries would be invaluable.

5 - To work in partnership with other organisations in the area, where funding allows.

Partnership is one of those modern buzz-words - we are all encouraged to work in partnership. Where partnership works particularly well is if individuals from different organisations have got to know each other’s work, found it up to scratch and believe they can either work together as equals, compliment each other in some way, or learn from each other.

We have been able to do all three - our schools’ programme works closely with the teachers who are often ‘volunteered’ to take part - the teachers work as hard as I do, training the children in the songs in between my visits, reinforcing the lyrics (learning the words for each song is a job that the teachers have proved superb at; the children don’t want to let their teachers down, and the teachers don’t want their children shown up by any other school) and learning their own music for the concert for the teachers’ choir. The schools’ programme has been a complete partnership where we have both worked together and complemented each other. With many schools e have kept in touch even after the end of the project, and the schools have contacted us again a year later asking to take part once more.

We have also had occasion to form close partnerships with the music services for South Tyneside, Durham and Sunderland, and each authority has asked for different input from us.

For various activities DCYS has been involved in we have been able to work with individuals from the Sage, with St Chad’s Choir through the offices of James Randle, with the National Youth Choir through Mark Anyan, its Administrator, with The Forge, a local Arts Project; with John Kefala Kerr the composer who led Space and Time project, Patrick Kane - Rimington from Theatre Activate, with the BBC and the University Chancellor, with the Lindisfarne Gospels Project, as well as NYCoS and Colourstrings.

Current numbers of children

At this point in time, just before the new term starts we have 16/17 Vox, over 50 singing in Training and Chamber Choirs for DCYS, roughly 25 Minstrels, 16/17 in Chimes and the same number again at Trimdon Grange. The numbers of boys and girls taking part is roughly equal in Chimes, Minstrels and Vox. In DCYS it fluctuates, this last year of the 50 singers 15 were boys, School projects reach 8 school a term, 30 children in each school - so 8 x 30 x 3 terms, and I have been at the helm for 6 years - that is 4,320 school children have sung in the Cathedral. However the project has touched more, as most schools are happy for me to do a session with the whole of KS 2 after the workshop with the chosen 30. So in fact the Cathedral Outreach has involved a much larger number of children than just those who have visited that Cathedral.

Where do our singers go when they have left us?

Over the last 7 years 16 children came forward to be accepted as Choristers, both girls and boys, from all walks of life. It is with enormous pride that I look back on the number of Outreach singers who have moved up to Choristership, children whom I have watched over the year focus not just on the professional job of leading the daily services, but apply that sense of professionalism to their school work, their sport, and choices in their future lives. Although Outreach was not set up exclusively to provide choristers, all of us in Outreach are proud of the work they have done.

Some of these children have joined the Samling Vocal School at the Sage, and one of them has been accepted at Chethams School of Music for her 6th form. A number of DCYS children have been accepted by the National Youth Choir and we are intending to encourage a number more to try this Autumn. A number have moved in the Sage Weekend music school; Quay Lads and Quay Lasses at the Sage, and one is now with Quay Voices, at the tender age of 16, and has visited Banff, Canada on their music tour. He started with us when he was 8. Singing has been almost half his life. The same boy sang in the chorus for a semi-professional production of the Marriage of Figaro staged at the Sage, and led by Miranda Wright, from Samling. Some have moved on to Durham Youth Choir. All sing with their school choirs. Some have discovered a love of musical drama and have moved sideways into Stagecoach at The Gala; one of our newest recruits does both - his local drama group and DCYS on a Saturday morning. Curiously it is mostly boys who have taken up musicals. A healthy number have started instrumental lessons- the singing informing their musical development there as well.

Mish Kelly, September 2014

Durham Cathedral Outreach Programme

 Durham Cathedral holds a music endowment fund with County Durham Community Foundation to help fund its acclaimed music outreach programme and to provide bursaries for Cathedral Choristers.  

For more information or to donate to the Fund, please contact Christina Murrell at County Durham Community Foundation on

0191 378 6345 or christina@cdcf.org.uk.

Alternatively contact Gaye Kirby, Head of Development at Durham Cathedral on 0191 374 4052 or gaye.kirby@durhamcathedral.co.uk

We now offer sessions for children aged from 2 years old, all the way up to 15 years old. As well as practical musicianship and singing technique, we also teach music theory. If you are interested in joining sessions which happen:

please contact:

Musicoutreach@durhamcathedral.co.uk or talk to Simon Lee or Clare Crinson for more details

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