History and Background
King’s Ely and Ely Cathedral are pleased to offer a number of a prestigious music awards for young singers and organists. King’s Ely has educated the choristers of Ely Cathedral for over 1,000 years. Many of England’s finest musicians started life as cathedral choristers. This is no surprise, because professionalism is the hallmark of a cathedral choir. Alongside daily rehearsals and services, there is an exciting schedule of concerts, broadcasts, and recordings. Choristers receive a specialist musical education and are treated as professional musicians from the start, interacting and performing with professional singers, organists, and conductors on a daily basis.
The cathedral choir consists of boys, girls, professional adults, and sixth form choral scholars. The 22 boy choristers, aged 8 to 13, have been part of the Cathedral’s musical life since the foundation of the Cathedral in the Middle Ages, and can be traced back further to Ely’s monastic roots. In 2006, Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir was founded, now comprising 18 girl choristers, aged 11 to 16. Ely is proud to be the only cathedral in the UK to offer this type of intensive chorister experience to girls in this age group. The choristers sing alongside the Lay Clerks; six professional adult singers, many of whom have active musical and academic careers outside of their Cathedral duties. In addition, there are places for up to six Sixth Form Choral Scholars, who are gifted young singers who sing in the back row of the choir with the professional lay clerks. The choir is led by a team of four outstanding and highly accomplished musicians, who bring a vast wealth of knowledge and experience with them.
The choir has worked with many artists, orchestras and ensembles of international repute, recently including James Bowman, Lesley Garrett, John Rutter, Christopher Robinson, Gareth Malone, Aled Jones, the Britten Sinfonia, the Brandenburg Consort, and the City of London Sinfonia. Regular international tours have taken the choir to destinations including Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, France, Belgium, and Estonia. The choir also features regularly on radio and television broadcasts and recordings: the boys’ and lay clerks recently featured on Regent Record’s popular ‘A Year At…’ series, whilst the girls’ and lay clerks’ ‘An Ely Christmas’ was met with critical acclaim, and still regularly features as part of Classic FM’s Christmas programming. The choir has also recently broadcast live services on BBC Radio 3 for Armistice Day and Epiphany. The choir also has a substantial online presence on the cathedral’s influential YouTube channel, via which the daily services are now seen and enjoyed by thousands of worshippers all over the world.
Being a Cathedral Chorister
Being a cathedral chorister is a big commitment for the children and their families, but it’s an experience that stays with children throughout their lives. For many, it will also mark the beginning of a successful and fulfilling musical career, with several recent former choristers going on to hold choral scholarships in major university or cathedral choirs including Exeter, Durham, Cambridge, St Andrews, and Royal Holloway. For all, it teaches transferrable skills of commitment, rigour, attention to detail, confidence, performance skills and an appreciation of hard work and high standards. Former choristers go on to successful careers in all fields, and their early professional training is exceptionally attractive to employers and recruiters.
The choristers’ cathedral duties take place mainly before and after school, allowing them full access to the exceptional range of academic, musical, and sporting opportunities available at King’s Ely. All choristers receive individual vocal tuition and are expected to learn at least one other instrument. They also receive tuition in general musicianship and music theory. Choristers also enjoy the same school holidays as other King’s Ely pupils, with the exception of Christmas and Easter. They spend the four days leading up to these two important festivals in the boarding houses preparing for major services and concerts. For many children these “stayovers” are the highlight of the year.
We are always delighted to hear from potential applicants for chorister places. Formal voice trials are usually held in the Lent Term before entry, but children can audition at any time, subject to there being spaces available in the choir. The Cathedral Director of Music or Director of the Girl Choristers will usually suggest a friendly and informal pre-audition to begin with: this gives the children and parents a feel for choristership and allows us to advise on next steps.
Prior musical experience is helpful but by no means essential: we’re looking for a good natural voice and ear, a positive attitude to learning, and the potential to progress and enjoy life in the choir. At the voice trial we administer standard ear and rhythm tests, hear a prepared vocal piece (plus an instrumental piece wherever possible), and ask the candidates to read a passage of text. Prospective choristers also undergo academic assessments.
Boarding and Fee Remission
Choristers can attend King’s Ely as boarders, flexi-boarders, or as day pupils. The chorister remission is 40% off the day fee; further means-tested assistance is available. The school and cathedral are committed to ensuring that no gifted child is denied access to this life-changing opportunity due to financial constraints. All former choristers receive an automatic continuation award after their time in the choir if they continue at King’s Ely and continue to contribute towards music in the school. This award is 33% of the day fees for boys in years 9-11, and 25% off the day fees for boys and girls in the Sixth Form, unless they are successful in gaining a Sixth Form Choral Scholarship.
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