As the children of St. Patrick’s Primary School in Pennyburn travel to England this weekend to compete in the semi-finals of the ‘Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year’ competition they will sing ‘Voice of an Angel’ - a hauntingly beautiful hymn of faith and hope.
And last week the 46 strong choir had the chance to sing the song for its composer, Fr. Liam Lawton - who said he was “exceptionally impressed” by the performance, describing their rendition of the song as “one of the best arrangements” of it he had ever heard.
The choir, made up of primary six and primary seven pupils are led by musical director Ursula Cullen, with the help of accompaniest Trevor Burnside. The local kids are the only choir from Northern Ireland in either the primary orpost primary category to reach the final of the prestigious BBC competition. And this weekened they will travel to Manchester to compete in front of a panel of judges including Aled Jones, Russell Watson and David Grant.
Fr. Liam, who travelled to Derry from his Dublin base just to hear the choir sing had nothing but praise for the talented local singers. “From a technical point of view, it is just outstanding. The tone of the singing is beautiful and their discipline and control are excellent. The soloist (Maria Gallagher) has such a beautiful voice.”
“To have children aged nine and ten sing so beautifully and with such technical expertise is a a real testament to the skill and commitment of Ursula and the respect with which they regard her.”
The song ‘Voice of an Angel’ has been a YouTube sensation after young Irish boy Joseph McManners recorded it - Fr. Liam said the St. Patrick’s PS Choir version was “easily on a par” with that .
Ursula Cullen said she was “very excited and a little nervous” about travelling to Manchester for the competition.
“The whole thing has been a great experience and it has been wonderful to have Liam here today to hear the choir since. As a musician I have spent years learning his music.
“I’ll admit it was a little nerve wracking to sing in front of the composer but the children were brilliant and did us proud.”
St. Patrick’s PS headteacher Martin Coyle said he was exceptionally proud of all involved in the competition. “This is a great time for the school to the in the spotlight - and the choir will do us, and Derry - the City of Culture - proud.”