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Chorister Outreach Programme

Outreach Programme

For hundreds of years Carlisle Cathedral has been training children to sing. The 'Singing Out' programme aims to take those skills into the community to ensure that good quality singing is available to primary school children throughout north Cumbria.

The 'Singing out' programme

  • Sends singing teachers from the Cathedral into primary schools to develop their singing ability
  • Provides opportunities for children to perform in the Cathedral
  • Conducts singing training sessions with teachers
  • Develops creativity and confidence
  • Encourages team work, concentration and social integration

One recent participant said “I didn’t think that I would enjoy singing but it was ace!”

At recent concerts in the Cathedral the sheer joy of seeing children revelling in the music they have learnt to sing has reduced proud parents to tears. The pleasure singing brings to the children themselves is obvious. The project is one which delivers wonderful results. We hope you share our enthusiasm for this exciting project.

Supporting the project

The Singing Out project has an annual budget of £26,000, towards which the Chapter has committed £9000.  Schools make a contribution towards their participation, and money is also raised at concerts through a small ticket charge.  The shortfall is made up through generous donations from trusts, companies and individuals. 

Donors are invited to attend concerts to see how their money is being spent, and trusts and private companies are acknowledged in publicity material.

If you would like to support the work of the Outreach programme please contact Anna Howard c/o The Cathedral Office, 7 The Abbey, Carlisle CA3 8TZ telephone 01228 548151 for more information.


Reviews of previous concerts

Sing Out on a Starry Night!

Thursday 7 December 2016

On a cold, dark night when the only stars on display were those on the Cathedral ceiling, a different gathering of stars graced the stage at this year’s annual Christmas Outreach Concert. And brightly shone those stars, too, in this showcase of musical excellence from four of our Rural Schools and Carlisle Cantate Childrens Choir.

 Ding Dong Merrily on High was a rousing start to the entertainment with heads up singing, substantial volume, but no shouting, and some ear catching trumpet stop bridges from Assistant Organist, Jack Stone. It was interesting to see how the electronic keyboard and pipe organ interplay was to be organised, Ed Taylor conducting and playing the keyboard in front of the choir, Jack adding to the mix at the organ.

 Penruddock were first off the blocks with a deceptively simple rendition of Michael Head’s Little Road to Bethlehem, first verse confidently sung by a quintet of boys and girls with a warm but  hushed addition of sound to the ensemble when the rest of the children smoothly joined in. Next came Douglas Steele’s Fox, which required rapid words over syncopated accompaniment in the middle section, sung with pinpoint accuracy, a considerable achievement. Later in the programme they sprightly sang John Gardner’s ho down version of The Holly and the Ivy, which ripped along at some pace, quite a dance. The midway key change and the offset canon near the end would be challenges for any choir but were handled with panache. It was a really lively performance.

Next up were Kirkbampton C E whose choices of music were equally ambitious. The children were clearly eager to perform but well trained enough to sing the opening bars of Adolphe-Charles Adams’ Christmas Night quietly to begin with, allowing the full crescendo dynamics to develop. This in turn gave them the oomph to get on top of the signature upper register notes of this popular Christmas offering. The quieter sections were sung with indoor voices, in perfect contrast to the exultant singing of the well known higher phrases and they held on to the final notes of each of their pieces beautifully. Teacher’s encouragement from the front row was good to see, too. Their sensitive treatment of John Rutter’s Carol of the Children, with effortless  transition from unison to duet and back and some assured holding on of the longer notes, was a joy, as was their carrying off with such aplomb John Gardner’s Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day and all of its changing time signature traps, which left this reviewer spellbound. A fantastic showing.

Great Corby and Shankhill CE sang their Sussex Carol with great enthusiasm and colour, particularly the carefully controlled quietness in the second verse which gave a good platform for their exuberance in the last verse, with well supported high notes right through the very final rit. Walley and Piercey’s stunning composition, Love Shone Down, was new to me but one, now, that I’ll never forget. It was sung with such sensitivity throughout, from the almost ethereal notes right at the beginning all the way to the stirring finale. The second verse had the same noticeably soft start and its final crescendo was brilliantly realised, wonderful, a revelation, something of a master class in how to engage an audience. Christopher Tambling’s Charleston Carol setting for the words of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman was yet another crowd pleaser which delivered quite a rhythmic punch. A long carol for them to learn, so remembering all the words could have been quite a challenge but it didn’t show.

Regney and Baker’s Do you hear what I hear? was the second carol to be sung by all of the choirs. Written in the 60s, it has become something of a staple in Christmas celebrations. The school choirs responded enthusiastically to the extra dimensions of richer harmonies and orchestration and the overall effect was very watchable and absorbing.  I was particularly taken with the repeating echo effects and the lovely harmonies from Kirkbampton. The final note soared.

Mr Taylor’s Usain Bolt-like sprint to the organ console, to provide notes - did I really hear The Flintstones at one point? – for Anna Howard and Jack Stone’s informative ‘guided tour’ of the Cathedral’s amazing pipe organs, was quite a feat. One child got it just right when asked, “How do you produce the sound?” Answer: “You have to be good at playing the piano.” Running, too, it would appear. Tap dancing on the pedalboard was another demonstrable ability in our athletic organist’s repertoire, whilst Garth Edmondson’s Christmas Piece, with its Widor-like pedal sections, drew Oohs and Aahs from some of the kids but occasioned others to comedy cover their ears for the mighty final chords.

Cantate’s set was a delight. 10 girls and 2 boys made charming music with their vocal contributions. They handled the individualistic harmonies of Peter Warlock’s short but sweet Adam Lay Ybounden comfortably and lyrically and followed with a Norwegian carol, Mary’s Lullaby, another that I was hearing for the first time. I really enjoyed its pulsing rhythm and subtle modulations. The duet harmonies in the mezzopiano middle section were very sweetly delivered. I also loved the drift away ending. The words of John Rutter’s Donkey Carol were crystal clear, sung with good articulation, effectively complementing the fun and games of the accompaniment

The same could be said of the glorious symphony of sound that was Paul Trepte’s While Shepherds Watched and the final Twelve Days of Christmas, another John Rutter arrangement. It was a fitting climax to this evening of outstanding singing by happy, smiling children from the rural areas of the City of Carlisle and Eden District.

Mayor Colin Stothard was Guest of Honour and he and I reminisced, after the performance, about our own Christmas concerts back in the 50s when we were both amongst the first intake to the newly built Belah School. Opportunities for primary age children to perform in the Cathedral in those days were rare, almost to the point of none at all, so the Dean and his staff are to be much thanked for making it so possible these days for youngsters to sing in such a magnificent setting and for making sure it is such a pleasurable experience for all who do so.    

[A final footnote to acknowledge Ed Taylor’s huge contribution to the success of the evening; his direction, accompanying and general factotum managing of the many elements involved in running such an event deserves special mention. Ability to liaise with the schools, plan the concert, play the keyboard while conducting the choir and stage manage the complex to-ing and fro-ing of live  performance, at a time when he has been moving house, welcoming a new addition to his lovely family and keeping the various musical strands to his busy life on track, albeit with the help of some very welcome paternity leave, can only be marvelled at. His input to this year’s concert has been incredible.]

Stuart Hepburn                                                                                              Thursday 8 December 2016  




Tuesday 1 December 2015

What a treat these Carlisle Cathedral Outreach Concerts are! In this electronic age where karaoke/backing track music is everywhere, how refreshing it is to listen to children singing their hearts out, Christmas carols and songs accompanied by virtuosic accompaniment on piano and the King of Instruments by three of the Cathedral’s Organists, unplugged live music at its very best. In the words of one of the carols so beautifully sung and conducted by all 17 children of Bewcastle School and their teacher, this really was “the playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.”

“Is riv’n with angel-singing,” from the concert title carol, sung with such feeling and enthusiasm by all the schools and augmented by the mature voices of the Cantate Children’s Choir, could have been written with this celebration in mind.

Joubert’s “Torches” was always guaranteed to be a rousing start to the evening’s entertainment and so it proved with Ed Taylor’s vigorous conducting. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to Rutter’s highly amusing accompaniment was the raucous finale. Second time through, the audience was invited to emulate the children, who sang whichever day corresponded with their month number, January 1, February 2, etc. The kids were great, we were rubbish! I think the Organ Scholar thoroughly enjoyed his turn conducting and won the audience over in an engaging, Last Night of the Proms sort of a way.

Stanwix School’s first offering was a delicate rendering of Michael Head’s “The Little Road to Bethlehem.” Sung with hushed softness at the beginning, it rose with some intensity to the challengingly high “Star of Gold” A flat, quite a stretch for young voices but achieved nevertheless. The ever popular “Jesus Child” by John Rutter ripped along at a pace and it was amazing how well the words were articulated by the children, the virtue of memorising over reading from a sheet. The “Sing Alleluias” came in very well. Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night” was another well known Christmas song requiring a gradual build up to higher notes near the end - little lungs puffing away making sure they got there. These were ambitious pieces so all credit to their teachers for giving the children opportunity to acquaint themselves with such repertoire.   

Bewcastle School, small in number, were big in sound and the boy and girl duetting the first verse of “Away in a Manger” was a delight. The quality of tone was just as sweet when the others joined in for verses 2 and 3. Very tuneful throughout; I thoroughly concurred with their teacher’s thumbs up approval. They charmed us once more, later in the programme, with “Autumn Sequence,” by Douglas Steele, who hailed from Cumbria, I was surprised to learn.

Longtown Primary School sang out their pieces confidently and clearly. I could hear every word. They, too, sang a Douglas Steele composition, “The Fox”, as well as a lovely “Silent Night”, first verse beautifully sung in German by five of the girls, and an exuberant hoedown of a Charlston Carol, the smiles on the children’s faces evidence, if you needed any, of much fun learning it.

Carlisle Cantate Children’s Choir, 11 girls and a boy, were there to show what can lie beyond school singing alone. They sang with some aplomb two 20th century works, one by Peter Warlock, “Adam Lay Ybounden,” and another John Rutter, “Donkey Carol,” and with these were able to demonstrate some more advanced choral skills, such as singing in canon and double choir arrangement, good to see and hear.

And these were put to useful effect when they joined all the other choirs in a stirring performance of Rutter’s “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol,” where each school had a verse apiece and clearly enjoyed their moment in the spotlight. The closing diminuendo was particularly controlled.

As well as giving youngsters the chance to star on the ‘the best stage in town’, these occasions are also an opportunity for the Cathedral to demonstrate the huge contribution it makes to the musical life of the city and to show off its audiovisual treasures. How many stars are painted on the ceiling? 2992, my Grandson tells me. How many pipes, how many voices does the organ have? Anna Howard had the children’s mouths agape when she invited the Assistant Organist to play the tuba magna, (or the “fat tube” as one bright spark called it,) and his playing of Garth Edmundson’s “Toccata on Von Himmel Hoch” had some of the children demonstrating the power of the instrument by pretending to cover their ears. It was indeed mighty.

Rounding off the concert had all the performers combining for a relatively recent setting of “While Shepherds Watched” by Paul Trepte, each school taking it in turns to feature. A more orchestrated arrangement had every section of the combined choirs appreciating the different layers of composition and the rich harmonies. There was a particularly effective moment when the Cantate singers projected their voices over the children singing sotto voce in front, just as Mr Taylor was asking of them.

Edward Taylor, Max Smith, Jordan English and all the members of school staff so dedicated to delivering quality music teaching to the children are much appreciated for the amazing experiences this type of initiative generates. To each of You and all of the Children who made the night so memorable, a big thank you. Quite a Ding Dong!                    

Stuart Hepburn                                                                                   Friday 4 December 2015                              



Misquoting a certain Centurion, “What did the Americas ever do for us?” Well, on the strength of this treat of a concert, they gave us jazz, Latin American, Leonard Bernstein and film musicals, an aural tradition joyously plundered for much of last night’s performances. The very British offerings of the ever popular Howard Goodall compositions were a perfect foil to grace the final third.

What came across from all the children performing was the thrill of singing in such a fabulous place. What made the experience so engaging was that they all sang with confidence from memory, not a song sheet in sight. It meant that all eyes were on the conductors, Edward Taylor and Jonathan Millican, and this very evident link ensured they all responded extremely well to compelling and involving direction.

The rhythmic urgency achieved as Rockcliffe, Wreay and Ivegill  Schools each, in turn,  sang and stage spoke one verse apiece of the opening America from Sondheim & Bernstein’s West Side Story was spine-tingling and the mixed meter clapping at the finale was, well, convincingly Hispanic. A flying start.

Most memorable of the individual offerings were Wreay’s enjoyable Banana Boat Song, which brought a smile to the faces of singers and audience alike because it was delivered with such exuberance and fun; Rockcliffe’s New York, New York, impressive in the range of notes the children sang - challenging but mastered in the lower “start spreading the news” register and just as secure in the high, higher notes - the handling of “top of the heap” triplets and an impressively cohesive accelerando at the end; and Ivegill’s Rhythm of Life, which had us all going with its delightful duetting,  doo be doo riffs and ear catching modulations, very accomplished for such a young school choir.

But really, it’s quite wrong to single out individual contributions because, in truth, they were  all good. The strong singing of Yankee Doodle and the high, mesmeric “find me” and glorious final notes of the sweetly sung Somewhere Over The Rainbow;  the excellent articulation and dynamics in Shenandoah and in Doris Day’s Black Hills of Dakota  cowboy song;  the very assured sextet intro to Nina Simone’s Feelin’ Good plus quality articulation, phrasing and lyrical swing throughout, as the others joined in, and the spot on tuning of Elvis Presley’s classic Can’t Help Falling In Love: all a pleasure to listen to, ambrosia to the senses.              

 Edward Taylor’s exposition of Charles Ives’ Variations on ‘America’, played on sight, I happen to know because I was there during the briefest of warmups just prior to the audience pouring in, was something to marvel at, virtuosic, and in full view of some clearly amazed children.

The accomplished Cantate Choir, which participated so effectively in the opening, middle and closing items, sang What a Wonderful World and Misty for their moment in the spotlight. The Louis Armstrong signature tune was relaxing to listen to and was sung with warmth as was the Johnny Mathis standard with its famous descending major 7th opening chord, tuned to perfection.

Which leaves us with the Howard Goodall pieces. Everyone got together for The Vicar of Dibley, more difficult to sing than familiarity with a well known TV theme tune might suggest. Mr Goodall’s 23rd Psalm composition is a test for any choir so Cantate plus the Combined Schools Choir are to be credited for making such a good fist of it. It’s not easy.  

It’s also not every day you hear music, emanating from Red Dwarf and Mr Bean, being sung to the Cathedral rafters and, indeed, there was some danger of the roof coming off altogether at one point, such was the volume generated by an extremely enthusiastic rendition of Blackadder. Sung with incomparably greater panache than the said Rowan Atkinson creation could ever muster, the final crowd-pleasing hussar to the eponymous anti-hero was Maracana-pitched in intensity. Well done, all of you! A triumph.

Stuart Hepburn                               

Friday 11 July 2014


This was a celebration of young people making music that made it feel great to be British. My Grandson put it best after a rousing Land of Hope and Glory, “The bestest. I really, really enjoyed that one.” It was like that all the way through, indeed, and best of British offerings just kept coming from Petteril Bank, Newlaithes and Ivegill Schools and the boys of Carlisle Cathedral Choir.

On this momentous day, Murray getting to the Final, and this amazing Diamond Jubilee Year with the Olympic Games still to come, the Singing Out For Britain theme was an inspired, zeitgeist, choice and the whole event lifted the spirits, almost as if to spite the awful weather. A personification of all that is fantastic, and too often unheralded, about the way this country gets behind a good idea, here, in this northern outpost, we were given an evening’s entertainment, by children that brought a smile to the faces of everyone, a heart-warming treat. It’s not just Gareth Malone who is getting people to sing. Jeremy Suter, Edward Taylor and Jonathan Millican are working magic at this end of the country, too.

The way the children took their places on stage, sat quietly waiting for the concert to begin, were focused on the conductors when performing and sang their big hearts out, was a delight. Made me wish I was still a teacher.

The opener, Rule Britannia, was stirring stuff, each school taking on one verse apiece. The children sang the coloratura sections like Royal Albert Hall veterans and the choruses rang out impressively, filling our magnificent cathedral space with glorious sounds, a bravura performance. “Really, really good,” said my other Grandson.                    

Noticeable how children had memorised most of the words, it meant they could give their undivided attention to dynamics and the conductors’ directions. They held onto the longer notes and there were some lovely endings in all the contributions. You could see them responding to some of the more ethereal sounds they were producing. They even handled some key changes in Dashing away with the smoothing iron like old hands. And there was some very assured solo duet singing during Swing low sweet chariot, no mean achievement in such a venue, with a lovely variety and freshness in the voices of those brave enough to be ‘spotlighted’. More than one potential chorister for the future, I shouldn’t wonder.

The boys and one lay clerk of the Cathedral Choir sang three royal-themed anthems, an impeccable display of their fine tuned talents. “Watch me,” whispered the Magister Musicorum and how they watched. The combined might of organ and choir for Britten’s Jubilate in C connected viscerally with the audience and eyes looked up to the star studded ceiling with a palpable sense of amazement.

The sleeping cat, hungry lion, warbling nightingale and many other sounds of the King of Instruments were an engaging interlude to the proceedings, followed by the Kensington-style rendering of Land of Hope and Glory. Even though I pitched in with my best tenor voice I struggled manfully, but failed, to match the soaring bel canto notes of Mary Miller, who was sitting immediately in front of me. This was audience participation at its very British and competitive best. 

There were even instrumental accompaniments for some of the school pieces, which worked very well. ‘Fife and drums’ for the British Grenadiers and the tempo changes in what shall we do with the drunken sailor literally had us on the edges of our seats. Great stuff. Grandsons stood up and shouted,” Hurrah!” at the end.

Three of the Nation’s favourites - I vow to thee my country. Greensleeves and Jerusalem - the last with Choristers adding a descant high in the register which caught the attention of several in the massed choir, judging by some reactions, brought this wonderful outpouring of musical excellence to a fitting finale.          

A veritable Last Night of the Proms for Kids, imbued with something of the Olympic motto - higher, faster, stronger. A once in a lifetime experience? I hope not. “Just fabulous,” my Grandsons concluded, and so do I.                                  

Stuart Hepburn                                                                          

Monday 9 July 2012  


SINGING OUT a Medley of Christmas Music

Tuesday 4 December 2012


Thanks to outreach tutors, music leaders, class and head teachers, parents and minders but, most of all, the children themselves, this couldn’t have been a better way to start this year’s season of Christmas celebrations. The Dean Mark Boyling captured the essence of the night by getting the choirs of Norman Street, Upperby and Caldew Lea Schools to wave to anyone they knew in the audience. Smiles all round. “Hiya, Jay,” came the enthusiastic response from one younger sibling, a member of the audience, which had everyone chuckling, the perfect way to spirit away any pre-concert nerves.

I hadn’t realised Gaudete, the first offering, came via Sweden, but it was sung with such gusto by all the choirs, together with the Cathedral Choristers, that you’d have been forgiven for thinking they were all medieval Latin speakers, so clear was the enunciation - a rousing intro heralding much more to come.

The first half of the programme delivered traditional classics, each school taking it in turns to star.

Norman Street gave us the lively, Bohemian, Zither Carol. Good to see they’d learned the words off by heart, not a song sheet in sight, and the featured verse soloists, a boy and girl each time, did their school proud.

The Cornish village of St Day’s’ Sans Day Carol was Upperby’s first moment in the spotlight. And they were all smiling at conductor Jonathan Millican, which was great to see. They responded well to the mood variations, of John Rutter’s piano accompaniment, in Edward Taylor’s expressive playing.

Caldew Lea kicked off with the famous Sussex Carol, teacher Miss Lowther conducting. It was sung with the crispness of a Vivaldi Winter, all were in the zone, singing their heads off, with the Cathedral Boy Choristers adding a fine, high G flourish at the end of the verse 4 descant. Great stuff.

Next it was the Choristers on their own with an a capella Lullay from the 14th century. This was an opportunity for everyone to hear trained voices performing music of some complexity at the highest level and it says a lot for the Boys that they managed to sing so beautifully, even when some noise coming from the audience might have proved distracting for a less disciplined ensemble.

An exuberant Ding Dong Merrily on High by all, with well observed p and f dynamics and excellently pitched Glorias each and every chorus, rounded off this most enjoyable first part of the concert.

A whistle stop tour of the Cathedral’s magnificent pipe organs, couriered by the Master of the Music Jeremy Suter, featured the instrument’s range of colour, the sheer number of organ pipes, nearly 4000, and their extraordinary dimensions, from smallest, 1cm, to largest, 10m, the different sound qualities emanating from metal, wood and reed pipes – did bagpipes, as one child suggested for one of the stops, sow any ideas for future rebuilds, the Scottish half of me wondered? –and the comparison of its console to a Jumbo Jet flight deck! Little mouths were agape at Mr Taylors’ bravura pedal board demo. Then six who were the first to answer questions in a short quiz were ‘whisked off to Paris’ to stand next to the organist playing Leon Boëllman’s Toccata. “Fasten your seat belts,” the audience was advised.

Carols with some more modern tunes made up much of the second part of the concert. Upperby gave us Michael Head’s charming setting of Margaret Rose’s, The Little Road to Bethlehem, and the well-known words of The Holly and the Ivy, to an Aaron Copland-style Hoedown accompaniment, all rather jolly. Norman Street, conducted by their teacher, performed a delightful Autumn sequence by Douglas Steele and the Charleston Carol, traditional words to a Scott Joplin-esque backing. They responded well to the syncopation, music to the ears. And Caldew Lea went for the Cliff Richard Christmas hit of long time ago, Mistletoe and Wine, then transfixed us with the Nation’s favourite carol, Harold Darke’s In the Bleak Midwinter, words by Christina Rossetti. Surely the stand alone moment of the whole concert was Madison Nicholls’ singing of the first verse solo. It was delightful, such a pleasure to listen to. What confidence, so assured.  Special.

The Choristers’ second offering was He Shall Feed His Flock from Händel’s Messiah, which they sang with an emotional intensity that moved this reviewer by the quality of their voices.

They also joined forces with the school choirs, singing an energetically paced Jesus Child by John Rutter and a medley finale, featuring John Joubert’s dramatic Torches (sung in two parts for the third chorus), then, by way of contrast, a delicately handled Away in a Manger, followed by a new Paul Trepte setting for While Shepherds Watched, which gave rein to full blown singing from the children with a stirring Chiming Christmas Bells descant line high in the treble register to finish. A marvellous climax to a marvellous concert. Well done, all of you!

Stuart Hepburn