Derry schools top of the class for BBC Songs of Praise Choir final

The Holy Family PS school choir, which qualified for the finals of the BBC Songs of Praise. 0503JM43
The Holy Family PS school choir, which qualified for the finals of the BBC Songs of Praise. 0503JM43

TWO Derry Primary Schools will be flying the flag for the City of Culture this weekend when they compete in the semi-finals of the BBC Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year competition.

Holy Family Primary School from Ballymagroarty, under the musical direction of Claire Doherty will be competing the competition for the first time while St. Patrick’s Primary School, Pennyburn, under the musical direction of Ursula Cullen will be competing for the second consecutive year after last year making it through to the grand final.

The two local schools have beaten off competition from thousands of schools to make it to the final six in the prestigious competition - a remarkable achievement in itself.

The schools were selected after submitted a recording of the choirs performing to the judging panel.

They will now compete against schools from Hull, Cornwall, London and Hull tomorrow at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool and according to St. Patrick’s Primary School principal Eamon Devlin the experience will one the children will never forget.

“I am absolutely so proud of our boys and girls and the hard work they have put in to reaching this stage of the competition,” Mr Devlin said. “There is a great buzz within the school and we are all very proud of the children and of Miss Cullen, who has put such hard work in.”

Ursula Cullen, who also led the choir to the finals last year, said she thought it was particularly apt that two schools from Derry had made it to the final stages of the competition in this, the City of Culture year. “The boys and girls are great ambassadors for this city, which has a great musical heritage. It is so heartwarming to see the next generation of musical talent get recognised in this way.”

Her thoughts were echoed by Claire Doherty - who has been a stalwart of the Derry choral community since she was at Primary School herself.

“We are delighted that we are being able to draw attention to Derry and it is particularly fitting that we are able to do it this year when Derry holds the City of Culture title.

“Derry has a very long and impressive musical history - and we are delighted to be able to carry that forward with this next generation.

Mrs Doherty said for many of the Holy Family children the trip to Liverpool will provide experiences they have never had before. “Many of our children have never even been on a sleep over before,” she said. “This will be for a lot of our choir their first time away from home, their first time on a boat - it will be a real adventure and for our kids that is what we hope to offer, a lasting memory that they will take with them through life.

“The winning is not as important as creating those memories.”

Miss Cullen agreed saying the experience had to be seen in its entirety - and that for the children getting to perform on such a large stage in front of distinguished judges would be something they would never forget.

“The hard work is done now,” she smiled. “Now it is time to enjoy it and celebrate all we have achieved - and of course to put our best foot forward for Derry.”

Both teachers praised their choir members for their dedication and commitment to choir.

While St. Patrick’s PS choir is mostly made up of Primary 7 and Primary 6 pupils, Holy Family’s choir is mostly made up of Primary 5 and 6 pupils.

Despite the choristers young age, the youngsters have shown “exceptional professionalism” when it comes to rehearsals and preparing for the trip of a lifetime.

Both schools will be performing two songs each, a traditional hymn and one other. Holy Family PS will be singing ‘Making Me a Channel of Your Peace’ followed by ‘The Walls Came Tumbling Down’. St. Patrick’s PS will be singing ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ and the old negro spiritual ‘Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho’.

The judging line up is former pop singer and vocal coach to the stars David Grant, musician, choir master, conductor and performer Suzi Digby, and pianist, singer, model and presenter Myleene Klass.

Aled Jones will present the programmes which will air on BBC One in April.

Both schools wished to thank all those who have supported their entry to the School Choir of the Year Competition.

Fr. Michael McCaughey, Chaplain of St. Patrick’s, said the entire community wanted to wish the choirs well.

He particularly wanted to thank Fr. Martin O’Hagan who visited the school, Donal McCrisken of Belfast Choir Capella Caeciliana, who performed at a fundraising concert for St. Patrick’s and all those who have put their support behind the local effort.