What’s it like to be a chorister?

Here is a short piece on the daily life of a chorister by Theo who is off to Harrow as a music scholar.

“Ten minutes till breakfast”, says the Housemaster at ten to seven. His voice seems distant to our tired selves. Another day has arrived. Eventually, after we get out of bed, we frantically get changed and hurry down to breakfast. A glass of juice, some cereal and some toast wakes us up in time to start our instrument practice. If you are still not fully awake by the end of music practice, the choir bell, rung by whichever Year Eight boy is on duty, is bound to alter that!

We walk over to the Cathedral for our daily practice with the Organist. As always, we slowly get into our best singing shape and after ten odd minutes we are deploying our angelic voices with grace! We encounter all sorts of music dating from around the fifteen hundreds all the way through to the twenty-first century. We all enjoy the music that we sing, even the routine stuff. The choir has a huge repertoire so more and more music is being introduced day by day.

After an enjoyable hour of music over at the Cathedral we return to school for a jam-packed day. The breaks are always a motive but lessons are quite frequently fun. The new interactive boards are superb and especially come in handy in maths lessons, which we have five times a week. We get along with all the day boys as well as our fellow choristers as all our lessons are with them. We play sport together: rugby in Michaelmas, football and hockey in Hilary and cricket in Trinity. These are very much part of our school life and sport is a familiar topic in the boarding house on a Tuesday evening, after prep and service in the Cathedral, when looking forward to the match the following day.

Some evenings, we don’t have a service to do so we can enjoy a night relaxing watching television or doing activities in the Boarding House Competition where one boy from the lower two dormitories and one from the upper two are paired together. Each week there is a different activity and at the end of the term there is a prize- giving for the overall winner. Activities include pool, table-football and ‘lethal penguin’. Don’t even bother asking what this is! On Wednesdays, one of our free nights, there is tuck. There is a wide range of sweets and chocolates and also drinks are available. Before you start worrying, there is a limit of one chocolate, one sweet and a drink. Also on free days in the summer we go to the Meadow and play cricket, Frisbee and a bit of football. This is a time when we can just enjoy ourselves for however long we are there!

There are two matrons and there is always one on duty according to their complicated rota. So for anyone feeling ill or perhaps a young boy feeling a bit home-sick they are always there to comfort you. Sometimes there are special occasions such as concerts in St John’s Smith Square, Christ Church and other less visited venues such as Althorp. We even do live radio broadcasts and filming such as Songs of Praise. These are always a great excitement to all of us. Periodically we go on tour to countries such as America, Portugal and Germany. These have all been fantastic experiences which we will never forget. We were in America for nineteen days and went to ten states and also fourteen different places. We visited famous Amarillo in Texas along with Washington DC and New York (Manhattan) plus many more. We even went VIP up the Empire State Building. In Portugal we stayed in a five star hotel for just over a week. This, too, was brilliant. Finally, Germany was the shortest of recent tours and different from the others. We went to three different places in five days. This, like all of our tours, was amazing.

Tours happen about once a year and when we are informed that one might be taking place, it is a great feeling. Twice every year we have to do extra services in Christmas week (the week leading up to Christmas), and Holy Week. Although these are on top of what we usually do, we all enjoy the weeks because there are no lessons! Activities such as trips to Blenheim Palace or the Cotswold Wildlife Park are organised and always turn out well. A highlight of Christmas Week has to be at breakfast on Christmas Day where sports’ socks are made into stockings and we get to receive gifts from the Headmaster and his wife. I have to say they are decent gifts too, not just ones costing five pence from the newsagent! We do a concert in Christmas week and the Passion, Requiem or Stabat Mater in Holy Week. In the Holy Week of this year we sang the Bach St John Passion with a superb professional orchestra, the London Musici. This was one of many performances done with great instrumentalists or indeed singers. It was another of the many, many great experiences you get from being a chorister.

The Year 8 Prefects in the Choir are around to help the younger choristers, for example with their tie if they haven’t yet learnt how to tie it! They, too, encourage the little boys that are still quite new to all of the business of being a chorister and support them through any home-sickness. Home-sickness is something that most boys get when they start but with the kind-hearted help from the matrons, housemaster and the Year 8s it always disappears quickly. They, then too settle in to experience the great life of a chorister.

The Tour – the Choristers Journey

They are of course the heart of the choir and when they sing… But they are also boys. So what will the tour be like for them?

Here is Chris Rocker talking about this.

Christ Church Cathedral School

What is it like to be a chorister? This link will take you to the school site where there is a video that will give you a great view of the life that the boys lead.

I like the scale and the personal aspect of the place. Wish I had gone there.

When you come to a rehearsal, you will be able to ask them yourself what it is like.

Christ Church Cathedral School is a Prep and Pre-Prep, fee-paying boarding and day school for approximately 140 pupils based in OxfordEngland. Steeped in music and history, the School was founded by Henry VIII in 1546 to provide choristers for Christ Church Cathedral and College. Now a Church of England School, it was originally housed within the College itself. Today its premises are located across from Christ Church at 3 Brewer Street, Oxford and Cardinal Wolsey‘s house is still used for teaching.[1]

In the 19th century, the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell (father of Alice, who was immortalised in the books of Lewis Carroll) arranged for the building of a new choir school on its present site. More recent developments include the opening of a Pre-Prep department and nursery, and the William Walton Centre which comprises several new classrooms and teaching facilities.[2]

All pupils are boys except a few girls who attend the nursery. The 22 boarders are choristers or probationary choristers for the Cathedral. The dormitories in which they sleep are named after distinguished former organists including Ley, Taverner and Armstrong and formerly Watson. All other pupils are day boys, among them twelve non-boarding choristers who sing in Worcester College Chapel. The school also used to provide choristers for Exeter College but this was stopped when Exeter no longer wanted a boys choir.