Northern Ireland

Singing success for Belfast choir

Choir
Image caption The boys rehearse in St Peter’s Cathedral with choirmaster, Nigel McClintock

A new three-part documentary series following the Schola Cantorum of St Peter's Cathedral, Belfast began on BBC One on Monday.

Producer/director Cara O'Doherty explains how the Choirboys series came about.

Conscious of the old adage of "never work with children", I first went to meet the 40 `choirboys' of St. Peter's Cathedral with more than a little trepidation.

Even before I entered their modest rehearsal space at the cathedral, their voices could be heard escaping into the evening air. Clichéd as it may sound, it was simply angelic.

It was hard to believe that the choir I was to follow for the next few months was still in its fledgling stages.

The boys had been brought together by musical director Nigel McClintock, and his assistant Helen Frame, who together scoured Belfast's schools to source raw singing talent and turn them into bona fide choristers.

With the obvious distraction of computers games, television and homework, twice a week these boys - aged between eight and 21 - make the pilgrimage to St Peter's Cathedral, at the bottom of the Falls Road, to practice.

Establishing the choir was the brainchild of eminent liturgist, and priest of the parish, Father Hugh Kennedy. He describes creating the choir at St. Peter's as "one of the greatest things I have done in my priesthood."

Fr. Kennedy's dedication, coupled with the commitment of the boys, and their parents, cannot be underestimated.

Talented

Although they come from different parts of the city, from different domestic arrangements and varied social backgrounds, and despite the broad range of ages and interests, these boys have formed a cohesive unit.

Over the course of the TV series, viewers will see their hours of rehearsal finally pay dividends as the choir makes its mark not just in Ireland, but across Europe.

One highlight for the choir, and our documentary team, was at Easter when the cathedral's elaborate ceremonies were televised live across Europe.

The choir hardly had time to catch their well-tuned breath, when the boys were asked to sing at a memorial service in Parliament Buildings, Stormont for the late Polish president.

And before they headed at the end of June to face the biggest challenge of all - singing for Pope Benedict XVI inside the Vatican - they squeezed in a performance with the Irish Tenors, embarked on intensive fundraising, sat music exams, attended master-classes, and celebrated quite a few birthdays.

It was impossible not to be moved by the enthusiasm of these Belfast choirboys as they took on every challenge, and surpassed every expectation.

From St. Peter's on the Falls Road to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, what better endorsement of their hard work than a name check from the Pope himself.

As Nigel McClintock says of his choirboys: "The choir is a unified, wonderful body of people.

"Each and every one of them contributes so much, and they're almost like an extended family in a way… and they're all very talented."

The first episode of Choirboys is available on the BBC's iPlayer for viewers in the UK until 15 November.

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