The Academical Clerks

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.

Christ Church is unique amongst the collegiate choirs in its Cathedral role, and this is reflected in the considerable opportunities afforded to the young singer, to learn a vast musical repertoire and to participate in many recordings, broadcasts and tours. In the past few years, the choir has visited, Australia, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, the Lebanon and the USA. Academical Clerks are expected to have singing lessons, the cost of which is borne by the College.

The Academical Clerks take part in the Cathedral Choir’s choral services held in Christ Church Cathedral, which are normally as follows:

Sunday9.45am Matins
11am Sung Eucharist
6pm Evensong (rehearsal 5pm)
Tuesday-Friday6pm Evensong (rehearsal 5pm)
(Thursday: 6pm Sung Eucharist)
Saturday6pm Evensong (rehearsal 4.45pm)

The 6pm service on Monday does not usually involve the Cathedral Choir.

Former Academical Clerks

Academical Clerks have moved on from Christ Church into all areas of life. Some remain in singing whilst others follow careers governed by their degree choice.

The summer before I “went up” to Oxford, an email dropped into my inbox requesting my passport details for a 16-day tour of the East Coast of the USA, and I realised that a choral scholarship at Christ Church was going to be a totally different experience for an 18-year-old parish church chorister from Romford. Fast forward through the next three years: trips to China and New Zealand; three CD recordings; countless concerts across the UK; broadcasts on British and American radio; and of course, eight services each week in the beautiful, ancient Cathedral; and it is perhaps unsurprising that I was tempted into a singing career, despite studying Law. I am now based in London singing for various choirs, and the high-quality education in choral music I received at Christ Church continues to be invaluable. Stepping into a professional choir and studying an Oxford degree is obviously demanding, but that I managed to play a full part in all of this, develop so much as a musician and successfully complete my Law degree is testament to the life skills you quickly acquire, and Stephen Darlington’s care and encouragement. Regardless of what you want to go on to, a choral scholarship is richly rewarding – my contemporaries in the choir are doing everything from accountancy to advising international sports governing bodies. Beyond singing and study, friendships forged on the football field in a 4-3 thrashing of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge remain strong to this day. Even achieving a record of defeats in choir cricket to put Ricky Ponting to shame can’t dampen my enthusiasm, fondness and gratitude for my time in the Cathedral Choir of Christ Church.

I came to Christ church in 2001 fresh from a laid back New Zealand tour with some of the men from the choir. So when I began proper in my busy first term, I was rather shocked as to what was expected of me. It took me some time to learn how to manage my time between work, the choir and play. At one point in this first term, having lost my voice and confidence, I can remember Stephen personally coming to my room to reassure me that this was perfectly normal and that I should not panic. This was sound advice, as through my three years I grew in confidence in the choir and my degree. Oxford became such a wonderful place to be. I found much more time to branch out and know the University, particularly through my involvement in the drama scene – of which Stephen Darlington was extremely supportive (and perhaps slightly proud!). It was through my interest in musicals in particular that my singing teacher Ashley Stafford recommended a course at the Royal Academy of Music. Having completed the course there you can now find me in the West End. My experience in the Cathedral Choir has paid dividends many times over.

Becoming an Academical Clerk

There are vacancies for Academical Clerks (also known as Choral Scholars) in 2018 and 2019. Further information may be found on the University undergraduate admissions pages. At the choral trial, candidates are required to sing a prepared piece and to demonstrate musical aptitude through a few vocal exercises (scales and arpeggios), ear tests and reading at sight. The audition lasts approximately ten minutes. Great care is taken to ensure that the duties of the Cathedral Choir do not interfere with academic work and progress.

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