Something in the air as Londonderry bursts into song

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Floating speakers, the sound of sewing machines and a vast singalong filled the Londonderry air yesterday.

A string of musical events were happening as part of the City of Culture programme – including some truly novel events.

Yesterday the proceedings began with a “dawn chorus” at 4.30am just over the border at an ancient fort in Donegal, attended by Martin McGuinness.

Then, from 6.30am to 7.30am, seven hot air balloons equipped with loudspeakers drifted over the city, playing an orchestral composition by the artist Luke Jerram.

The event was called Sky Orchestra. Peter Hutcheon, spokesman for the City of Culture event, said: “The idea was that people of the city would wake up to the sounds of this composition being played.”

When it was suggested some shift workers might not have been pleased to be woken at 6.30am, he replied: “It wasn’t AC/DC – it was gentle music.”

And from noon an estimated 5,000-strong crowd began gathering in Guildhall Square for what is believed might be the world’s biggest-ever mass rendition of Danny Boy, according to Donal Doherty, who was organising musical offerings of the day.

Led by the St Patrick’s Pennyburn Primary and Codetta choirs, the event marked 100 years since the lyrics to Danny Boy were written and set to the older tune of Londonderry Air.

After the event, Mr Doherty said: “The weather was great, and secondly the atmosphere in the crowd as we warmed up was absolutely phenomenal.

“And when people started singing, there was a real sense of a city raising its voice.

“The strong message we have from the city this year is participation, and of owning the culture that’s going out to the world.

“Today I’d suggest it was the city singing with one voice.

“A lot of people came up to me afterwards to say what an emotional experience it was.”

He said the idea of Music City Day (as yesterday was dubbed) had been to saturate the city with music “from literally dawn until dusk”.

Mr Hutcheon was also present at the massive Danny Boy singalong and said: “It was a very uplifting moment.

“We had builders who were working nearby, a lot of office workers – a lot of families as well. An eclectic mix.”

Performances were taking place across the city throughout the whole day – including two from the bizarre-sounding Sewing Machine Orchestra at 1pm and 7pm – in which old Singer sewing machines were rigged up to produce music.

The day was set to culminate with an evening performance at The Venue in the Waterside from renowned Cuban group the Buena Vista Social Club.