The Minster Choir
Being a Cathedral Chorister is a remarkable experience for a boy. During his years in the choir he will be trained to professional standards in performing. He will acquire a sense of purpose, of self-discipline, an ability to organise his time, and an awareness both of adult standards and of glorious music, words and architecture. It is a training which sets a boy up for life, in whatever field he may eventually choose. (We also make sure the boys have plenty of fun!) In recent years, Southwell choristers have broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3 and have recorded critically-acclaimed CDs, have toured in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Switzerland, have filmed Christmas programmes for ITV and BBC, and have given world premières of specially commissioned works such as Paul Patterson’s Southwell Millennium Mass.
From the age of 7 to 11 (years 3, 4, 5 & 6) choristers are educated in the musically-enriched environment of the Minster School’s Junior Department where all pupils (boys and girls) display musical potential. The school is a wonderful institution known for delivering the best academic results in the county.
In Year 7 (aged 11/12) choristers move up into the much larger main school - the Minster School - a Church of England Maintained Comprehensive School with an excellent academic, musical and pastoral reputation. Most choristers excel at school, often being fine sportsmen and achievers in whatever field they choose. Southwell ex-choristers can be observed as leaders in all walks of life - the professions, the media, education and professional music-making.
Find out more about the Minster School.
A Chorister’s Life
On four days a week there is a morning rehearsal before school, then a normal school day. After school, Chorister Club relaxes and feeds the boys who can get some homework or music practice done. Then it’s back to the cathedral for a rehearsal and Choral Evensong, at which they are joined by the men of the choir. On Saturday afternoons they sing from 4pm to 6.30pm and Sunday is, of course, their busiest day of cathedral duties. All this happens within term-time; school holidays and half terms are all observed, except for a few days over Christmas and Easter. Choristers also have fun in plenty of non-musical activities such as the Choir Football team (which plays other Cathedrals), and going on outings to attractions such as the London Eye, Magna, or indoor bowling.
Southwell Minster choristers are paid - unlike boys at many cathedrals. There are several ranks within the choir, from Junior to Head Chorister, to which a boy will aspire. With each higher grade comes greater responsibility - and higher pay! When their voices break, choristers leave the choir at a special presentation ceremony, generally remaining in the Minster School to complete their education and enrich the School by their presence. A few leave to go to specialist music schools such at Chethams or Wells, where they find fresh inspiration.
Joining the Choir
Do you need to be a budding Mozart to get in?
No! All we look for when we audition is a quick ear, a bright eye, the beginnings of a musical voice and an accomplished reading ability. We can do the rest. No training is necessary, though having started to learn an instrument can be an advantage as it helps a boy to read music and to listen.
Do you live in Nottinghamshire?
Do you have a son or grandson aged 7-9?
Would you like to see him singing in the Minster Choir daily, hear him on CD and the radio, see him on television, wave him off on foreign tours - and give him the best education in the area?
Phone the 24-hour choir telephone-line for a full information pack: 01636 817360
Points to remember
- A guaranteed place at the sought-after Church of England Minster School, with its Junior Department for Choristers
- Free lessons on a musical instrument
- Free singing lessons
- Free after school supervision and tea
- Free daily vocal training in the Minster Choir
- Generous help toward transport costs in cases of need
Entry aged 7 - 10
- The only professional cathedral choir in Nottinghamshire
For advice or information, contact Paul Provost, Director of Music at the Cathedral:
t: 01636 817297.
Formal voice trials take place annually in November and January, but auditions can be readily arranged at mutually convenient times.
The Lay Clerks
The choir includes six adult singers (Lay Clerks), who sing alto, tenor and bass. They are respected professional singers who support the development of the boy Choristers and Girls' Choir. They are occasionally supplemented by additional gentlemen for larger services.
All Lay Clerk vacancies will appear on the Church Times and on this website.
The Rector Chori is always pleased to hear from potential deputy singers who stand-in for an absent Lay Clerk. Singers with good sight-reading skills should contact Paul Provost on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an audition.
“There have been choristers here for nine hundred years, singing the same psalms, and the hymn of the Virgin Mary, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord', as our choristers sing now. Nine hundred years! It is only in such buildings as ours that the mind of man can bridge such a space. On a winter’s afternoon in the fading light, sitting by the west door, you hear the voices of the invisible choir in the distance, the chant swinging from side to side, then can you picture to yourself the Saxon, the Norman and the English, each in his day singing the same songs of praise to God the Father of all.”
So wrote W A James, Librarian of the Minster, in 1927. Eighty years later, the tradition is as strong as ever and choristers continue to be educated at the Minster School whose first recorded Schoolmaster was Henry de Hykeling in 1313. For all that time, men and boys have sung the praises of God in this place, led by a director of music whose title, Organist and Rector Chori (literally, ‘ruler of the choir’), dates from the sixteenth century.
Names of Singingmen are known from 1571, and knowledge of choristers begins in 1469 when one, Milo Hogesone, was admitted to the choir on 8th October. For centuries the choristers swore allegiance to the Chapter in the Chapter House; many of these documents (in Latin until the 18th century) are preserved. Not always well-behaved, choristers have from time to time been admonished. In the Chapter Visitation of 3 May 1503 we read: “the vestments of the choristers are disgracefully torn, and the copes are not properly repaired. The choristers do not gird the priests, deacons and themselves properly, they rave and swear and disturb the priest celebrating our Lady’s mass, and want a good whipping.”
Today the Choristers and Lay Clerks rehearse and sing Evensong on five days a week during the school term, as well as two services on Sunday. In addition to these daily services, the Minster choir appears on television and radio - notably in BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong broadcasts, makes CDs, sings elsewhere in the Diocese to encourage church music, and has given concerts in Italy, Normandy, the Netherlands, Paris, Prague and Switzerland to critical acclaim. An important event in the Minster calendar in November every year is the St Cecilia Concert which enables the Choir to display to the wider Southwell community the breadth of its repertoire, and sometimes to include large-scale works with instrumental accompaniment.
The choir’s repertoire is huge and encompasses the music of six centuries. Notable recent additions to the repertoire include Paul Patterson’s Southwell Millennium Mass, commissioned by Southwell Minster Choir Association. This Mass was given its première in the Minster at Sung Eucharist on 2nd January 2000 with the Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square, conducted by Paul Hale.
We are a choir that regularly tours and we have an international reputation. In April 2004 the choir spent a week in Caen in Normandy, staying in the homes of friends, and gave concerts in many of the region’s beautiful churches which survived heavy bombing during the Second World War. On Palm Sunday, the choir sang the High Mass in the Abbaye aux Hommes, founded by William the Conqueror. There was plenty of time for recreational activities and sight-seeing and boys and men were able to visit Cherbourg, Bayeux and the D-Day Beaches during the trip, which took place a few weeks before the 60th Anniversary celebrations of the Allied Invasion in May 1944. In April 2006 the Choir spent a week in Sweden and Denmark. In May/June 2008, the choir spent a week in the Puglia region of Southern Italy, which culminated in a joint concert in the Basilica di San Nicola, Bari performing Benjamin Britten's St Nicolas. In May 2009 the Choristers visited the Island of Guernsey for a short concert tour, accompanied by the Dean, who was returning to his roots. In May/June 2010 the choir returned to the Puglia region of Italy. Again the choir was based in the town of Monopoli and tavelled around the surrounding towns and cities giving exciting concerts. In July 2011, the Lay Clerks went on a very successful short tour to Venice where, amongst many concerts, they sung for Mass at St Mark's Cathedral and gave a short recital in the courtyard of the Doge's Palace. In 2012 the choir visited Sées in North-West France, which is twinned with Southwell, and returned in 2013 to record an exciting CD project in the town's cathedral that boasts an impressive, newly refurbished Cavaille-Coll organ (click here to see all our recent recordings). In 2014 the choir visited East Germany and sang in stunning Cathedrals and venues in Magdeburg, Mühlhausen, Sonderhausen and Leipzig, following in the footsteps of J.S. Bach. In 2016 the choir will be touring to Budapest, and will be performing in some spectacular venues.