Last month the  Accolade Community Choirs from Newry and Banbridge and the Newry Accolade Ukulele Group headed north for the City of Derry's 5th International Choral Festival.

Billed  as a “joyous celebration of choral music making” it was with great excitement that the local groups travelled up. Explaining the trip Mary Cunningham from the choir said:

The Accolade Community Choirs from Newry and Banbridge and the Newry Accolade Ukulele Group on their trip to Derry.
The Accolade Community Choirs from Newry and Banbridge and the Newry Accolade Ukulele Group on their trip to Derry.

We were to join 50 other choirs who were coming to take part in competitions, concerts and performances over the weekend before Halloween. We were, by choice, going to perform in the ‘non competitive’ group of choirs.  However we had been invited to make a special guest appearance in St. Columb’s Hall where the main competitions were held.

On the Friday evening, in St Columb’s Hall, we sat enthralled by the singing of the award winning choir Tenebrae who have been described as “devastatingly beautiful.” We could concur with that description as they delivered a dramatic and unforgettable performance.

They demonstrated the amazing power and intimacy of the human voice.  For many of the group this was indeed the highlight of the weekend. So it was with some trepidation that our choirs and Ukulele group mounted the same stage on Saturday afternoon to sing and be accompanied by the Ukulele group for two songs: Solfege Samba by Christi Carry Miller and Why We Sing by Greg Gilpin.

We were delighted that the the audience responded so well to us and our conductor Vessie Ivanova who has an amazing gift of getting audience participation. Their applause at the end left us in no doubt that we had performed well. We were delighted to learn that one of the Festival adjudicators congratulated Vessie and Nikolay our directors, and expressed his enjoyment of our performance, while also inviting us to take part in the competition next year.

While still enjoying the afterglow of our successful performance we moved straight into a workshop given by Hermial Schlichtman, a lecturer in the University of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt.

Saturday morning saw us up early and heading off to sing on the Festival Trail. We were singing in Sainsbury's Store in the city. What a surprise the Saturday morning shoppers experienced as they arrived in the store to the sound, of the combined choirs and the Ukulele group! They joined in the fun and danced to the music. One shopper was heard to say “Oh that shopping could be this enjoyable every Saturday.”

Lilian Boyle
Lilian Boyle

On Sunday we sang in the Foyle Centre, again causing surprise and enjoyment for the shoppers.  It has to be said that we in the choirs and Ukulele Group love to perform in this kind of venue where we are in close proximity with our audience and can see how warmly they respond to our singing.

Of course it wasn’t all about performing. In the evenings there was time to relax in the hotel bar and besides more singing, there was dancing, chatting and generally getting to know each other better. Many of our members got to walk on the beautiful symbolic Peace Bridge, on Derry’s Walls and to visit the Guildhall.

Before we bade farewell to Derry I ask two of our members for their impressions of the weekend and what it means to them to belong to Accolade Community Choir and Ukulele Group.

So a very enjoyable and successful visit to the Derry City Choral Festival  was had by all. Now it is back to practices with the two people who made this all possible for us all, our esteemed Director and Conductor Nikolay and Vessie Ivanov. We are already planning more trips to other venues to share our gifts with others.

Lilian Boyle has been a member of Newry Accolade Choir for three years. This was Lilian’s first Choral Festival. She came because she has fond memories of living in Limavady for almost 10 years. In fact she was delighted to meet people in her hotel who know friends of hers from that town.

“It is a lovely connection but I also have another strong musical connection with Derry” said Lilian. It appears that Lilian’s mother was a Coulter - she was an aunt of Phil Coulter. Lilian especially enjoyed singing in Sainsbury’s Store. She liked the happy atmosphere and the realisation that people were actually enjoying the performance.

“So we accomplished what we set out to do.” said Lilian. ’Though she had attended concerts in St. Columb’s Hall, singing on stage there was something she had never even dreamed of. That for her has been a memorable and wonderful experience.

She reflects on being a member of Accolade Community Choir. She says that it means everything to her. “It is like an extended family where we all look out for one another.” says Lilian. This time of year is particularly difficult for her, remembering her son who died some years ago. “But being in the choir gives me strength and courage to keep going” she said.

Colin Barr plays the Ukulele. This was his first Choral Festival and he had been looking forward to getting to know members of the Newry and Banbridge Choirs. Colin, like Lilian, was pleased with the  positive reaction of the shoppers in Sainsbury’s as they arrived for their shopping.

Playing the Ukulele and singing on the stage in St. Columb’s Hall was a totally different experience for him. He says “I had never been on a stage before. It was a totally new and rewarding experience seeing the people cheering and clapping us”.

One of the highlights for him was hearing the Tenebrae Choir perform.

For Colin attending the Ukulele class every Thursday afternoon is a break from the usual routine of everyday living. He says that as you get older you are encouraged for the sake of your mental and physical wellbeing to take up a challenging hobby, something totally different from normal activities.

He concluded by saying “I always liked music but never played an instrument - now I can.”

Colin Barr
Colin Barr

If you would like to join the Newry Accolade Community Choir why not join them at 7 00pm each Tuesday in the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre.

If you would like to join the Ukulele Group they meet each Thursday in the Arts Centre at 3 30 pm.

Upcoming Events

Saturday 25th Nov. Georgian Festival in Armagh City 2 00pm - 3 30 pm - all choirs and Ukulele group performing.

Monday, 18th of December at Sean Hollywood Arts Centre Newry at 7 30 pm.

This is the last of three  concerts called "Pipes and Christmas" and the programme will feature:

Bulgarian traditional bag-piper, who plays other traditional instruments and  a

traditional Bulgarian singer,

Brendan Monaghan on uilleann pipes, whistle and bodhran,

Aoifa Monaghan on guitar,

Nikolay and Vessie Ivanovi on violin, keyboard and guitar.

The concert's programme includes music from both countries and some popular


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