King Henry VIII established the Collegiate Foundation “Ecclesia Christi Cattedralii Oxon: ex fundatione Regis Henrici Octavi” in 1546. Today, Christ Church is a unique joint foundation: both a college of the University of Oxford and the Cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford. This foundation originally included one Organist and eight Lay Clerks, but now consists of sixteen Choristers, six Lay Clerks and six Academical Clerks, in addition to the Director of Music (who has the official title of ‘Organist’), the Sub-Organist, and one or two Organ Scholars.
The Lay Clerks take part in the Cathedral Choir’s choral services held in Christ Church Cathedral, which are normally as follows:
11am Sung Eucharist
6pm Evensong (rehearsal 5pm)
6pm Evensong (rehearsal 5pm)
(Thursday: 6pm Sung Eucharist)
6pm Evensong (rehearsal 4.45pm)
The 6pm service on Monday does not usually involve the Cathedral Choir.
It is possible to combine the post of Lay Clerk with a second occupation or research. A large number of former Lay Clerks have distinguished themselves in the music profession, some in groups like The Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen, The Cardinalls’ Musick and The King’s Singers, and others on the operatic stage.
FORMER LAY CLERKS
Pat Dunachie (Countertenor Lay Clerk 2015-2016)
“I was a Lay Clerk at Christ Church for one academic year, 2015-16. I’d come straight from King’s College, Cambridge, where I had studied Music and sung in the Choir. Looking back at it, it is quite amazing to think that it was only the one year I spent in Oxford, given quite how much happens in the course of a year as part of Christ Church Cathedral Choir!
I’m reminiscing now from a coffee shop in Boston, MA, where I’m performing this evening with The King’s Singers, a job I started straight after leaving Christ Church in September 2016. Having graduated from Cambridge – before I had any inkling that I may be invited to join The King’s Singers – I had decided that I wanted to embark on a career as a professional singer. I have always enjoyed singing in choirs, and my time at King’s confirmed in my mind that I would like to try making a career from it. As a Lay Clerk, Christ Church was the perfect place for me to begin. The nature of the package is such that one gets a shared house to live in, rent free; the regular income from performing duties in the Cathedral; and additionally, numerous extra engagements with the choir, which bring in a good amount of beer money!
The position of Lay Clerk usually only requires him to be at Christ Church in the evenings, for rehearsal and service, meaning that during the day, he is free to take other work. For me, this other work was normally teaching singing in a nearby school, and whenever possible, auditioning-for or undertaking other freelance singing work with choirs and consorts, or as a soloist. During my year in Oxford, I built up work with Westminster Cathedral Choir, The King’s Consort and Ex Cathedra, alongside solo singing too. Into this mix, came The King’s Singers, and after two auditions during the course of my time at Christ Church, I’m now lucky enough to be touring the world singing over 100 concerts a year with the group.
I learned so much during my year at Christ Church – from Stephen, who was an inspirational director, from Clive, who played so beautifully so often, and with whom I greatly enjoyed sharing a cocktail every now and then. Every term, there’d be music programmed which I didn’t know before, there’d be concerts, recordings, or other projects which broadened my musical horizons. And most of all, it was all a lot of fun. It was, quite honestly, the perfect bridge from student-hood to profession, and even after one year there, I’ll always feel a great connection to Christ Church.”
Ben Durrant (Tenor Lay Clerk 2013-2015)
“I was a Lay Clerk at Christ Church for two years, before going to the Royal College of Music to study for a Masters in Performance. I had a hugely enjoyable time, and Christ Church afforded many solo opportunities in both concerts and recordings, as well as tours to the USA and China. I feel that Christ Church provided the perfect platform for me to prepare and develop before embarking on further study at conservatoire. It has been particularly enjoyable and rewarding to be invited back to Christ Church on multiple occasions, most recently to Evangelise their Bach St. John Passion last Holy Week. I still feel a strong connection to the choir, and the particularly large number of alumni who continue in professional music have provided a warm and supportive community in London!”
These are advertised widely when they arise. Please CONTACT THE ORGANIST, Stephen Darlington, for details.