Dublin: the real choral music experience

Picture this… you’re standing in a venerable old building in one of the oldest cities in Europe performing one of the most famous pieces of music ever written

After the performance, you stroll down the road to a cosy pub, enjoy a drink with friends in front of a roaring turf fire and plan your sightseeing for tomorrow. And just maybe you top the night off with a rousing singsong and perhaps a bit of dancing… 

Welcome to Dublin, scene of the first ever performance of Handel’s sublime Messiah, home to world-class venues and some pretty appreciative audiences and a great place to come if you love music, history and fun. Sounds good? Then Dublin might be just the place for you and your choir…

A nation of music lovers

Ireland has a long tradition of choral music and today that tradition is as strong as ever. There are hundreds of choirs all over the island, ranging from keen amateurs to international award-winners, singing everything from sacred and classical music to gospel, jazz, rock… even barbershop. Traditional Irish music is popular, too. We even have our own "Olympics of music", the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil

But performers need an audience. It’s a good thing, then, that Ireland has thousands of music festivals and the Irish are dedicated music lovers and enthusiastic concert-goers. And we love nothing more than extending our famous warm welcome to visiting performers, who’ve travelled to Ireland to experience our rich musical heritage for themselves.

Choirs of angels

“We have had so many famous performers, people like Handel, come here to perform and to experience life in Dublin,” says well-known Irish conductor Desmond Earley. “And we want to invite people to come and see Dublin, and to experience music in Dublin, in the spaces that are of historical importance to us.”

This sentiment is echoed by others in the Irish music scene, like Deborah Kelleher, Director of Musicianship at the Dublin-based Royal Irish Academy of Music. “It’s vital to the lifeblood of music in Ireland that we get visiting choirs to come here and perform with our own singers and musicians,” she says. “And we’re always so excited to welcome these visitors, and help them have a wonderful time here in a real city for music”.

Dublin really does have something special to offer. The city boasts many beautiful venues, from small parish churches and halls to more prestigious venues, like medieval Christchurch cathedral, right in the heart of the old Viking Dublin. 

Choral traditions

The choral tradition in Christchurch began in 1493, when the choir school was founded, and it’s still going strong. Today, the choir at Christchurch Cathedral is one of the best regarded in Ireland. And the Cathedral is more than happy to welcome visiting choirs, offering them the chance to sing at its services, enjoy its warm acoustics and magnificent organ and have a truly unforgettable experience. Christchurch also has a fascinating and ghoulish crypt, we dare you to visit! 

Or there’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, where the famous satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, was once Dean. St Patrick’s unique atmosphere attracts musicians from around the world, and it’s a popular venue for a wide range of musical events. It has hosted visiting choirs from Great Britain, Canada, Italy and the US. And the Cathedral’s own choir is a regular on the international touring circuit.

Small and intimate

Dublin is blessed with a great selection of smaller, more intimate venues as well. Like St Andrew’s Church, just down the street from the Royal Irish Academy of Music

St Andrew’s happily plays host to a variety of cultural events, but on 13 April it was the venue for a very special performance of Handel’s Messiah; the 271st anniversary of the oratorio’s first-ever performance in Dublin. 

Innovative French choir Choeur Battant were invited to Dublin to be a part of the Handel’s Messiah Gathering, one of the many musical events taking place to mark the year of the Gathering, when Ireland welcomes friends and family home to celebrate our culture and heritage with us.

“Handel’s Messiah is THE masterpiece,” says Martina Niernhaussen, Choeur Battant’s choirmaster. “And we were so thrilled by the idea of coming to Dublin to sing it on April 13, which is such an important anniversary for this piece.”

So how did they enjoy their trip to Dublin? “Oh, we just loved it!” she says, describing their Dublin experience with enthusiasm. It kicked off with a personal welcome from the city’s Lord Mayor at a reception in the Mansion House. Then there was the walking tour around all the city’s Handel hotspots, including Christchurch Cathedral and Fishamble Street in Temple Bar, where the Messiah was first performed all those years ago. All this before the performance even took place…

Changing with the times…

When the Messiah premiered on that important day in 1742 in Neal’s Music Hall, ladies were requested not to wear hoops in their crinolines and gentlemen were asked to turn up without their swords so that more people could be accommodated at the performance. 

The 2013 audience also left hoops and swords at home, but they did arrive full of enthusiasm for the night’s performance in Dublin City. And they weren’t disappointed. As the opening chorus swelled, the emotional power of the music cast its spell and the crowd was riveted by both choir and soloists. 

As the last note of the Amen chorus rang out, everyone involved – conductor Desmond Earley, the soloists from the Royal Irish Academy of Music, the singers from many of Ireland’s established choral societies and college choirs, and of course Choeur Battant – received a standing ovation. 

And how did Choeur Battant celebrate their successful performance? What else but a late supper at the top-floor restaurant of well-known Temple Bar hostelry The Oliver St John Gogarty? Great food, reasonable prices, and the excitement of their triumphant performance ensured everyone was ready for a party.

So the arrival of a group of traditional Irish musicians inevitably led to a singsong and as the night went on the pub’s patrons were treated to some rousing renditions of Irish and French folk songs. By the end of the night most of the group were up on their feet, and dancing.

So is that what you can expect if you visit Ireland with your choir? 

Well, we can’t promise you the official reception and the Lord Mayor, but the welcome, the fun, the unforgettable experience… that’s guaranteed. And getting here for choral groups big and small is as easy as do, re, mi!