Getting involved with music at Durham

Catherine Perkins

So, you’re considering coming to Durham or you’ve got an offer for Durham and you’re interested in participating in music? Congratulations! You’ve come to the right place. There is too much to say about music at Durham to fit into one post – there are just so many options, from Gospel and a capella groups to our renowned orchestras, DUOS and DUPO, to smaller ensembles and jazz! Here are some of my tips for getting started with music at Durham, and what it’s actually like.

Dan Ludford-Thomas takes a masterclass with the St Chad’s College Choir

#1 Research

Check out the Music Durham website and their Facebook pages. This will give you a good idea of the range of musical groups and societies there are in Durham and what they’re up to at the moment. You will also be able to see the kind of music each group plays, the size of the group, and their audition process (if relevant). Each group will also have contact details for enquiries, so if you get taken by one, get in touch and the lovely Directors of Music will be happy to help out!

#2 Auditions

Auditions can be a daunting process, and may, at first, put you off getting involved with music at Durham. However, don’t be afraid! All of our music groups are student-led, which means that everyone will have been in just the same position as you. In addition, many groups re-audition each year, so even if you’re a Fresher you’ll have exactly the same chance at getting into a group as returners. Moreover, around a third of all music groups at Durham are non-auditioned, so getting involved with music is really accessible: there’ll be something for you even if you don’t want to go through an audition process.

In terms of timing, some choirs audition at post-offer visit days (usually held in the March prior to arrival in September). However, most groups hold all their auditions in October in Freshers’ Week, and even those that audition early tend to hold some spaces too for October. Again, contact individual groups to know more about specifics.

Hild Bede Chapel Choir Rehearse

#3 College Music

Something fairly unique to Durham is that music groups operate on both a university level and a college level. This may seem confusing at first, but it basically means that there are music groups that anyone from the whole university can participate in and groups which are mainly run by individual colleges. Good examples of this are college big bands and college choirs.

In fact, some of Durham’s most well-known musical groups are its 8 Chapel Choirs which sing in the chapels associated to their respective colleges. These choirs are usually made up of a quota of students from that college (although some are also open to singers from other colleges). During my time in Durham, I have been fortunate enough to sing with John’s, Chad’s, Cuth’s and Hild Bede choirs, and all have been really good fun!

Singing in Durham Cathedral Chapter House

#4 The social side of music

But let’s think a bit more about what it’s actually like to participate in music at Durham. Yes, we perform high class music, but we have fun whilst doing so. Indeed, one of the best parts of getting involved in music at Durham, in my opinion at least, is the social aspect. It is often said that singing in a choir is one of the best things for improving mental health and for making friends. But I think the same is true of most musical groups. Getting involved with Durham music will immediately provide a group of friends who share interests with you, and will no doubt lead to some fun nights out, or even trips away, on tours or socials. My favourite trip out? It’s a tight call between going to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, and the Shrek themed bar crawl I did with John’s Choir last year…

#5 Perform!

That said, who can deny that some of the most unforgettable musical moments at Durham are the performances! Luckily, we are blessed with many rehearsal spaces around Durham, including the new rehearsal spaces on the Mount Oswald site. We also benefit from stunning performance venues, including Durham Cathedral, the Durham University Botanic Gardens, Beamish Hall, Sage Gateshead and Durham University’s own Castle and Concert Hall. Inspiring and awe-inducing, when you pick up your bow, or open your voice to sing here – well, let’s just say you won’t forget it in a hurry.

#6 The show goes on…

Finally – do you want to know the best thing about music at Durham? It’s boundless. If there’s not a group that supports your passions, you’re free to set it up. Or you’re welcome to invite someone to host a concert or give a talk or provide a masterclass. The music scene is thriving – but we are also always expanding, learning new things, and pushing to do better. Even through Covid, we’ve kept singing and playing, learning new ways to come together and perform. New experiences and opportunities are around every corner, and we can’t wait to hear your voice too. 

Discover more

About Music Durham here

Talk to our students on Unibuddy here

Download our latest prospectus and college guide here.

Follow our students on Instagram and YouTube.

Catherine Perkins

Hi, I’m Catherine and I’m a finalist at St John’s College where I study Classics with a splash of Theology in there too! During my time at Durham, I have worked as a Durham Student Ambassador and I am currently the Senior Welfare Officer at St John’s. In my spare time, I enjoy running around the Durham riverbanks and enjoying the beautiful sunrises, and sing in lots of choirs around the city.

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