Becoming a choral scholar

Singing in a cathedral or chapel choir is a wonderful opportunity for university and gap-year students.

Thinking of being a choral scholar?

A Choral Scholarship provides an exciting musical experience, and vocal and choral training to the highest standard. Here’s the lowdown on what it involves and how to prepare…
Choral Scholars at University College Oxford

What is a choral scholar?

Choral scholarships are awards given to talented singers who wish to develop their choral singing as part of a chapel, cathedral or major church choir, usually in return for a small financial reward, subsidised meals and singing lessons.

The choir is like a family; you make friends for life. The feeling of making incredible music with other likeminded, passionate people is unparalleled.

Daniel Maw, former choral scholar at Exeter Cathedral

Where can I sing?

Choral Scholarships are available at many universities to sing in their local cathedrals or university chapels, including Durham, Exeter, Bristol, Newcastle, Leicester, Canterbury Christ Church, Bath and York. See this link to the RSCM website for a full but not exhaustive list.

Oxford and Cambridge Colleges also offer choral awards for students to sing in their chapel choirs, and the responsibilities of choral award-holders vary greatly. Many of the choirs are professionally directed, and others are led by the college organ scholars. In addition, the set-up of the choirs vary – some have boy or girl choristers singing the top line, whilst others have adult sopranos. Because each place is different, it is best to look at the different requirements to see how they suit you.

Many cathedrals offer choral scholarships that are not linked to a place at university. These are ideal for young people wishing to take a gap-year as they often offer accommodation.

Academical Clerks at Magdalen College, Oxford

How to apply

Fill in a simple form on the relevant website, and prepare yourself for an audition. Most people feel nervous at this stage, but the directors of music are aware of this – just give it your best shot!

If you are not applying for the highest profile cathedrals or Oxbridge colleges, then it is your vocal quality and potential for progressing that is being assessed, as well as whether you would be a person with whom others can enjoy performing. Auditions generally follow a standard formula: a warm-up and sight-singing tests, one or two prepared pieces and perhaps a psalm. Of course, this isn’t the end – you’ve still got to achieve the right grades to get into the university!

Eppi, a Choral Scholar at Merton College, Oxford

One of the advantages of applying to Oxford for a Choral Scholarship is that you get to go and stay in your first choice college for a few days and meet the other people applying. I had two auditions at Merton. In the main audition I sang a prepared piece and then was given some sight reading. In the informal meeting I chatted about my singing experience and did a few aural tests.

Eppie, a former Classics student and Choral Scholar at Merton College, Oxford

Time Commitment

The commitments for choral scholars vary widely between institutions, since some choirs are more active than others. Cathedrals and some university or college chapels have 4-5 services a week, plus rehearsal time, and require their choirs to sing at Christmas and Easter. At other colleges the choirs sing between one and four services per week during term.

Because each college and university is different it is best to look at each place’s requirements to see how they suit you. Check carefully, and apply early!

Choral Scholars at Jesus College, Cambridge

Find out more

The Rodolfus Foundation runs useful courses for prospective choral scholars covering all the necessary skills required, with bursaries available.

There is a lot more information about becoming a choral scholar on cathedrals’ websites. Or you can visit the websites of universities which offer choral scholarships.

Scholars’ evensong

During the Covid-19 lockdown, a group of choral scholars from the South West of the UK produced a virtual Evensong. Here is a taster of their very accomplished performance.