In Praise of the North: Christmas with Durham Cathedral Choir
Many of us look forward to the end of the year. It’s a chance to stop, reflect, perhaps refocus our energies and hopefully look forward to what lies ahead.
Emotions ranging from euphoria to downright exhaustion are evident on most High Streets as December progresses. This year has been particularly challenging and it rose to a crescendo with the recent general election, perhaps the most divisive election for years despite calls from some quarters to think about ‘one nation’. A nation struggling with its identity might make us want to hibernate but, if you know where to look, there are indications that we’ll get through this if we stay close to the good folk.
We’re blessed in the North. None of us are very far from an inspirational landscape, either natural or man-made. If you’ve stood on Winter Hill and looked towards the Irish Sea or watched the Tyne glide by from the Quayside, you’ll understand. Malham Cove. The Lowry. Whitby Abbey. Striding Edge. Top Withens. The Great Whin Sill. The Oldest Sweet Shop in England. Some things are bigger (and better) than tribal politics. Thank goodness as Northerners we have these things close by.
So, what’s my point? Well, over the next few weeks, one of the most majestic and important buildings in our region is concerned only with the business of glad tidings and goodwill. With hundreds of others on Saturday evening, I climbed the sandstone promontory that forms the epic plateau on which Durham Cathedral stands to experience one of this 900-year-old institution’s festive traditions. The eagerly anticipated Christmas with Durham Cathedral Choir is a concert much beloved not only in the city, but across the North.
An immaculately behaved queue of battle-weary pilgrims quietly discussed recent events in Blyth Valley and Redcar as they filed past the Sanctuary Knocker and through the Galilee Chapel within earshot of St Bede. The hope? To lock-out negativity and, thanks to the artistry and excellence of Cathedral Choristers and the Reg Vardy Band, the mission was more than accomplished.
The concert forms part of a series of services and events throughout December to celebrate Christmas and no matter how secular you may consider yourself, it would be difficult to experience such sumptuous choral voices and brass and not leave with a sense that, actually, perhaps things aren’t going to be so bad.
The Reg Vardy Band is a talisman for everything that is brilliant about the North. Founded in 1910, the musicians were originally a Colliery Band formed to provide much needed recreation for miners. Thanks to the sponsorship of a North East vehicle retailer, the band continues to delight audiences and win accolades, decades since the last coal was hewn in County Durham. The sound within the setting of the Cathedral was magnificent. Ironically, the only seam of unmined coal in Durham sits beneath the feet of visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Saturday’s programme included the Appalachian Carol I wonder as I wander, O magnum mysterium (Morten Lauridsen) and the Shepherd’s Pipe Carol (John Rutter). The evening concluded with Mendelssohn’s Hark! The Herald Angels Sing with choir and audience in perfect harmony.
Stepping back out into the frosty night beneath the illuminated 200 ft tower, there was a palpable sense that perspective had been restored and, while we might want to cast our hands to heaven in exasperation at the palaver practised by our leaders and (so-called) betters, a visit to Durham Cathedral this season will confirm that we are all part of something much bigger.
Images courtesy of Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral is open every day of the year and a range of special events, exhibitions and services is taking place up to December 25. Full details at: https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk
News and information about The Reg Vardy Band can be found at: https://www.regvardyband.co.uk
Information on the Durham Cathedral Choirs can be found at: https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/worship-music/choirs
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