WE were delighted to welcome around 30 girls to our ‘Chorister Experience’ event on September 19th!

The action-packed day was organised by King’s Ely and Ely Cathedral to enable girls from across the region to get a glimpse of what life is like for the choristers of Ely Cathedral Choir.

Sarah MacDonald, Director of the Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral, said: “The girls were keen and enthusiastic, and certainly seemed to enjoy singing the Magnificat from Herbert Brewer’s evening service in D major, with all of its lovely tunes, which they learned as part of the afternoon’s activities. There was a great buzz around the event, and I hope we see lots of them applying to be cathedral choristers over the next few years!”

King’s Ely has educated the choristers of Ely Cathedral for over 1,000 years and joining the cathedral choir continues to be a popular choice today for both girls and boys. However, several changes that were agreed jointly by the school and the cathedral earlier this year, and which will take place over the next eighteen months, will help open the choristership door to more young singers, as well as bring regimes in line with many other UK Cathedrals, such as Durham, Salisbury, York and Wells.

From September 2022, boys and girls in the cathedral choir will enjoy complete parity of workload and recognition. They will sing an equal number of services each week and will receive an identical percentage fee award throughout their time in the choir. The age range of each choir will remain the same: boys will sing between Years 3 and 8, and girls between Years 7 and 11. Year 11 girls will continue to take a significant break from all chorister duties during the summer GCSE examination session. This change places Ely in the vanguard of a national trend alongside Gloucester, Worcester and Llandaff Cathedrals. Many cathedrals, with and without choir schools, have operated this model with great success for many years.

In another major change, from September 2021, it will no longer be compulsory for girl and boy choristers to board at King’s Ely; all will be able to attend the school as day pupils. Full and flexi-boarding provision will of course continue, as it is such a unique and special part of chorister life. However, the requirement for members of the cathedral choir to board is an aspect of choristership which has evolved in recent years, with all trebles enjoying much greater flexibility. King’s Ely and the cathedral believe that opening the choirs to day pupils is crucial in ensuring its long-term viability.

From September 2022, all new choristers will also receive an award of 40% of the relevant day fee in each section (Junior or Senior, as appropriate). The new award is among the most generous made by any cathedral in the country, and will allow the cathedral and school greater flexibility to award additional means-tested bursaries to families who would otherwise be prevented from taking up chorister places; in particular those who require boarding for this to be possible.

The choristers’ morning rehearsal schedule will remain unchanged. All choristers will be involved in cathedral services every Christmas and Easter. Girls and boys will continue to combine for major festivals and events, as they have in the past. Sixth Form Choral Scholars will continue to form an important part of the cathedral choir.

This change represents true equality of opportunity for both sets of choristers. Although it may not be apparent at first, it will mean only a very slight reduction in the total number of services sung by the boys over the year with better distribution of workload. The girls will be singing more services, but again much more evenly distributed than has previously been the case.

** Images by Keith Heppell **

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