Derry on a high with the International Choir Festival


The sound of music has been in the air in Derry for five days.

Thousands of people flocked to the international choir festival, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and the first entirely live festival since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Over 60 choirs from all over Ireland and beyond took part, from primary school children to more experienced performers.

There were events and competitions in schools, community centres, shopping centres, churches and concert halls across Derry and across the border in County Donegal.

“It’s been great,” said festival director Fiona Crosbie.

“It was brilliantly followed by choirs from all over the world and also audiences from everywhere.

“We also have choirs that bring a whole entourage with them, so it’s really kind of an all-island festival, which is great.”

Fiona Crosbie

The festival officially opened at Derry’s Millennium Forum on Wednesday evening with a performance by Carmina Burana, a 100-voice choir made up of singers from across the North West, as well as the Ulster Orchestra.

International performers during the week included the Polish Radio Choir, the Finnish a cappella ensemble Rajaton and the Tequila Choir from Mexico.

It was serious business at the Guildhall last night with five choirs battling to impress the judges in the International Competition final.

Among them, two Irish, the Dublin Youth Chamber Choir, several times awarded, and the Park Singers, formed in 1970 at the Phoenix Park School.

The other finalists came from America and Europe.

Festival artistic director Donal Doherty said there was added joy and motivation for the performers because the pandemic restrictions had silenced them for a long time.

“It’s a great feeling. Everyone is so excited, the buzz around the venues where the competitions and performances have taken place is phenomenal,” he said.

“It’s as if the city is literally electrified by the voices.”

The Eller Girls’ Choir of Estonia

Mr Doherty said organizers were unsure of the public reaction after missing the full live program for three years, but were pleasantly surprised.

“It was Noah who sent the dove to spread the news of his ark,” he said.

“We sent our dove and introduced the festival, but we weren’t quite sure if the dove would come back with anything, but a flock of them appeared in the city this week. It’s been really inspiring.”

There was an enthusiastic reception at the International Competition at the Guildhall last night for the Washington and Lee Universities Choir in the USA, which also performed at other venues during the week.

From Norway came Embla, a woman of 22, the Norse name for the first woman on earth, Eve.

The Embla Choir of Norway

The last singers on stage were the Eller Girls’ Choir from Estonia.

They won first prize at the festival when they competed five years ago and earlier this year were finalists at the Cork International Choir Festival.

The jury of choir directors from across Europe will crown the winner at a gala concert tonight, when each of the finalists will perform again.

Derry-born musician and songwriter Phil Coulter’s signature song about his hometown, The Town I Loved So Well, is about “the music out there in the air of Derry”.

The standard exhibited this week was a bit special.


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