Becoming a chorister

Information for children and parents

Why be a chorister?

Cathedral choirs in the UK are the finest in the world, and no other nation has the same tradition of training children to sing in cathedrals. A chorister’s musical education is second to none, producing young people who are organised, focused, hard-working, and often with a lifelong love of music, not just choral music.

Choristers enjoy a wealth of opportunities and experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Not only do they benefit from some of the finest musical tuition available, they perform regularly on a par with professional adult musicians. Most choristers spend five years in a cathedral, and it’s definitely hard work, but it gives children many useful skills that will never leave them. Choristers often go on to become remarkably successful in a wide variety of fields due to the valuable arts of self-discipline, focus and organisation learnt ‘on the job’.

I am a chorister

Many choral foundations have made videos sharing what it is like to sing in their choirs. We particularly like this video from Westminster Cathedral Choir School. It shows that choristers learn much more than just how to sing!

What is a chorister?

Choristers are usually children with treble (unchanged) voices who sing the top (soprano) line in the cathedral choir. They are sometimes also known as the ‘front row’ as they usually stand on the front row/s of the choir. They rehearse regularly and sing for services along with the adult altos, tenors and basses of the choir.

Alongside regular services, choristers take part in concerts (e.g. carol concerts at Christmas or a performance of a Bach Passion at Easter), they sometimes have the chance to take part in concert tours to other countries and make recordings and sing on radio and television broadcasts. Choristers at some choral foundations (such as Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel, Windsor) sometimes have the opportunity to perform at important state occasions, such as royal weddings and coronations.

Choristers come in an enormous number of guises, and they start young. Many choristers start at about 8 years old, particularly boys, whose voices will change around age 13-14. Some cathedrals have choirs for older girls (e.g. aged 11 – 18).

Some choral foundations have mixed front rows for boys and girls, others have a separate boys’ and girls’ front rows. In these cases, the front rows usually take it in turns to sing services, coming together for larger or important occasions, such as at Christmas and Easter.

Some choristers attend a choir school. Some choir schools are boarding schools but many are independent day schools. In these cases a chorister’s education may be subsidised by the cathedral. Cathedrals are committed to ensuring that enthusiastic, musical children have the opportunity to become choristers, irrespective of their family’s ability to afford school fees and will work with families and the choir school to find bursaries for children where necessary.

About half the cathedrals in the UK do not have a linked choir school, so, at these cathedrals, choristers come from a range of local schools. Choristers travel to the cathedral after school (sometimes also before school) to rehearse and sing services.

Auditions

Entry to the choir is by a simple audition. Directors of music are not looking for trained musicians but for children who love to sing, like music and are quick learners.

A chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral choir
Choristers at Peterborough Cathedral

Time Commitment

Life as a chorister is action-packed and incredibly rewarding but it does require a considerable commitment. The commitment varies between choral foundations but, as a guide, you can expect choristers to be singing two or three times on weekdays and most weekends in term time. They will be very busy during the run-up to Christmas and Easter, including services on Christmas and Easter Days. The commitment is reduced if you live near the cathedral or church where your child sings, as, unless he or she attends a boarding choir school, there is always travelling involved, which can be early in the morning or late in the evening.

Find out more

There is a lot more information about becoming a chorister on the websites of the various choir schools and cathedrals.

Many cathedrals run ‘Chorister Experience’ days in which children can participate to discover more about the chorister life. You can find out about these from cathedrals’ websites. Many are also advertised via local media.

Girl Choristers of Newcastle Cathedral