What is a typical choir day like for you?
A typical choir day began with a day of study when I was a student (I graduated last year) and now begins with full day of work, followed by gathering in the West Wing’s Song School to 'top and tail' Evensong, at 4.55pm, for a 5.30pm service. This usually involves prioritising the more challenging music, as time is precious!
What is your weekly schedule like?
I work an 8.30am-4.30pm job, also at Exeter Cathedral, with Evensong at 5.30pm, Mon-Fri. We have Saturday off, and then either 2 or 3 services on Sunday; Eucharist, Matins (usually only on High/Feast Days) and Evensong. The music list is printed at the beginning of term, so throughout the week I will take various pieces home to give them a 'once over', and ensure I know what I’m doing. If we have a particularly challenging piece coming up, we may be warned a few weeks before performance. The back row typically rehearse for half an hour or so on a Thursday, for this purpose.
What made you want to become a choral scholar?
I fell in love with the English Choral Tradition at University, where I sang as a choral scholar in the Chapel Choir. I wanted to further my own ability, understanding, and ultimately challenge myself in this capacity, so the next logical step was a Cathedral Choral Scholarship. I would be exposed to more music, more regularly, with higher responsibility and commitment.
How did you acquire the necessary skills?
Having been a University Choral Scholar for 3 years, my sight-reading and vocal ability developed week-on-week. A considerable amount of work occurred on evenings and weekends, when not studying, to learn music, solos, and generally focus on technique.
What was your audition like?
My Exeter Cathedral audition consisted of two contrasting prepared pieces, sung for the Director and Assistant Director of Music. What followed was a series of ear tests, psalm chant singing, and sight-reading tests, a contemporary and early polyphonic piece. After this, I waited to hear from the Director of Music, after all other candidates had auditioned. I recall my offer of a choral scholarship with great fondness and clarity.
What are the challenges of singing in the choir?
There is an extraordinary amount of repertoire to get through, and the daily commitment of preparing different music everyday is the primary challenge. It is also one of the best aspects of singing in a Cathedral Choir; the music is always new and refreshing, and exposes you as a musician to an incredibly broad selection of music.
What are the rewards?
The choir is like a family; you make friends for life. The feeling of making incredible music with other likeminded, passionate people is unparalleled. As a choral scholar, and indeed lay-vicar, organist, etc, you are able to tap into an enormous network of fellow musicians, sympathetic and passionate about the music you make, up and down the country.
What is the best thing about choir?
To name one single thing is a real challenge - I think it is a combination of being supported and appreciated for making incredible music, music that often means a great deal to those listening, and the social relationships you make along the way. It is at once thrilling, relaxing, moving and personal - though often being 'in the moment' is indescribable!
What is the worst?
Busy times of year (Christmas, Easter, etc) can be very stressful. You must be organised, able to self-motivate, and take your job seriously. The music must come together as a whole, and that requires everyone to pull their weight.
Where do you see the experiences you have acquired taking you?
Perhaps in years to come, a Lay-Vicar position would be desirable, offering a greater challenge and perhaps a change of scene! Otherwise, I am deeply passionate about the music in the Church, so a role where I can support, be a voice/advocate for this would be wonderful. Whatever the future holds, it will no doubt involve music making and the skills and experiences I have acquired as a choral scholar will be invaluable.
What do you do when not in the choir?
I am a keen gardener and cook, as well as a writer. My dissertation was a collection of my own poetry about my relationship with the Church, music, and everything in between! I direct a choir in Exeter, and am growing too much produce to know what to do with! Perhaps an allotment choir is called for… who knows?