To be a chorister in one of England’s magnificent cathedrals or college chapels is an unforgettable experience for a boy. It is also possibly the finest musical training that he can have. Many of today’s best-known musicians started their education as choristers, but the discipline and professionalism that is part of a chorister’s upbringing will stand him in good stead for any future career.
Cathedral choristers attend the CATHEDRAL SCHOOL across the road from CHRIST CHURCH in the middle of Oxford. The school has about 140 day-boy pupils as well as the choristers. Although the school premises are not extensive, the boys probably have the most beautiful playing field in the country, on Christ Church Meadow.
On average, four choristers a year join the choir, chosen by voice trial, academic test and interview. Most boys join at seven or eight, although occasional places are available for nine-year olds. The Cathedral provides bursaries for all choristers of up to 60% of full boarding fees.
Choristers sing evensong four times a week, as well as matins and a communion service on Sunday mornings and a communion service on Thursday evenings. They have a daily rehearsal on their own in the morning and a further rehearsal with the full choir immediately before services.
When they join the school, boys become “waiting probationers”, who are allowed home for the weekends and attend choir rehearsals and some services during the week. Usually they join the choir after about a year and then become full-time boarders. Approximately half the weekends in a term allow the opportunity for boys to go home after Evensong on Friday evening, returning in time for Evensong the following day. Parents are welcome to attend services. The choir sings services up to and including Christmas Day, and during Holy Week and Easter Day and extra activities and events are organised for the boys during these times.
As well as singing, all choristers play musical instruments and generally achieve a high standard by the time they leave the school at the end of year 8.
Music does not exclude other activities. Most choristers play cricket, rugby or football for school teams. There are judo and tennis clubs, and there is time most evenings to watch television and play computer games. The boys quickly become skilled at fitting as much as possible into their tight schedule.
In recent years, all Christ Church choristers have won music awards to public schools, ranging from Eton, Winchester, Rugby, Wellington, Shrewsbury and Uppingham to more local Oxford schools like Radley, Abingdon and St. Edward’s. Many boys win major scholarships (worth 50% of school fees) and some win academic scholarships as well.