Durham University: University Choral Society welcomes celebrated local conductor

DUCS is one of the oldest and largest musical ensembles at Durham University. Student singers had been performing together as DUCS for nearly 70 years, until the pandemic ground their activities to a halt. Now they are keen to get back to doing what they do best and taking the choir to a new level under John’s expert guidance.

Funded by DUCS with support from Durham University Student Music, John is working with the student choir on a weekly basis, teaching, coaching and rehearsing with them to further professionalise their already stunning vocal performances.

Choral career

Born in Washington, Co. Durham in 1947 and now lives in North Yorkshire, John has spent his life steeped in the musical culture of the North East. With a love of music instilled by his parents, he began his musical career studying the Violin and Classical Guitar, only moving on to singing and conducting once he realised it would be his way of combining his passions for teaching and music.

Having completed his musical studies and returning to the North East as a Music Adviser, John created the Tees Valley Youth Choir, which gained national reputation in 2006 as runner-up in the BBC “Choir of the Year”. John went on to form the “North East Youth Chorale”, which in 2011 sang “Elijah” at the BBC Proms, with Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players.

Awarded MBE

In 2018, John conducted Britten’s “War Requiem” at The Sage Gateshead in a joint effort involving his choir, the Cleveland Philharmonic Choir and Newcastle University Choral Society. It is no surprise that, in 2011, John was awarded an MBE for his outstanding contributions to work in Music and Music Education.

Speaking about his new role John said; “I am delighted to be embarking on a new adventure with Durham University Choral Society and excited to be working with young adult voices. Alongside many others, DUCS suffered from the pandemic, and must re-build after months of enforced inactivity. In order to do so we will need to reaffirm our commitment to the choral repertoire, work hard, practise, study, develop our skills and above all, enjoy working as a team, for that glorious moment when we all perform together in a shared experience – a seriously exciting prospect!”

Durham’s Tradition of Choral singing

DUCS President, Katya, is extremely excited by this recent appointment and all the opportunities it affords over the coming years. “This is a huge investment for the future of DUCS and will bring choral singing back to the heart of music-making at Durham. We’ve been so lucky from the start of the year, and now have an almost 100-strong choir of fantastically committed, driven and talented singers working towards what I’m sure will be a really stunning concert in December.”

She continues, “John’s rehearsal style makes sure that every single DUCS member takes something away from every rehearsal, whether that be a deeper understanding of the music or their own vocal ability. Rehearsals are punctuated by (often hilarious) anecdotes of his extensive musical experience which demonstrate such insight into the music. We are thoroughly looking forward to the next few years under John’s assured baton (often substituted for a pencil), and hope that our audience enjoys watching our first concert as much as we have enjoyed preparing it.”

DUCS Christmas Progamme
DUCS is looking forward to an exciting Christmas Programme of performances under the guidance of John, in what promises to be a brilliant season. You can see and hear DUCS on any of these dates:

29 November – Durham Intercollegiate Christian Union Carol Service, Durham Cathedral
4 December – Christmas carols at Hotel Indigo, Durham
5 December – Christmas carols at the Durham Christmas market
8 December – A full DUCS concert at Elvet Methodist Church, Durham

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