Schools For Choristers
Music is now recognised as one of the professions, taking its place by
the side of Law, Medicine, and Divinity. Parents who have boys to start
in life look for avenues of entrance to these various occupations. And
there can be no doubt that to be a chorister-boy is one of the very best
ways of serving an apprenticeship to music. Hear what the late Sir
George Macfarren says on the subject:--
"A cathedral c
oir is the best cradle for a musician our country
affords. I say this from the conviction, many times confirmed, that, as
an average, by very far the best practical musicians, those I mean whose
musical readiness gives them the air of having music as an instinct or
of second nature, those who are ever prompt with their talent to produce
or to perform without preparation at the requirement of the moment;
those whose ears are quick, whose wits are sharp, and whose utmost
ability is ever at their fingers' ends--are they who have passed their
art infancy in one of our ecclesiastical arenas for constant practice.
The very early habit of hearing and performing music stimulates the
musical sense, and gives musical tendency to all the youthfully supple
faculties which bear upon the use of this sense. The habit in almost
first childhood of associating sight with sound, written characters with
uttered notes, the office of the eye with that of the ear or of the
voice, which is the ear's agent, does more in favourable cases to
develop some of the best essentials in an artist, than can be
accomplished by the unremitting study of after life. I say this
feelingly: I had not the advantage to which I refer, but I observe its
influence upon the majority of others whose talent claims my best
These words put the case with emphasis and truth. A list of former choir
boys in the musical profession, if it could be compiled, would afford
further evidence in this matter. Among composers the list would include
Arthur Sullivan, Alfred Cellier, John Stainer, and Alfred Gaul; among
singers, Edward Lloyd and Joseph Maas, while the ranks of the teaching
profession are largely recruited from this source. "Literature," says
Mr. Herkomer, "does not help art much. Art is learnt by doing." You
cannot become a musician by reading the matter up, or listening to
lectures. Musicianship is imparted more after the style of a moral than
of an intellectual power--like good breeding rather than like
A striking proof of the fact that the chorister boy gravitates easily
into the musical profession, and makes his mark there, is afforded by
the history of Rochester Cathedral boys. These include the late Mr.
Joseph Maas, the tenor singer, and the following organists of
cathedrals, all of whom are living:--Dr. Armes (Durham), Dr. Crow
(Ripon), Dr. Bridge (Westminster), Dr. J. C. Bridge (Chester), and Mr.
These facts make parents anxious for information as to how to get their
sons into church and cathedral choirs. Enquiries of this kind are
constantly reaching me. I have therefore thought it well to add to the
completeness of this work by collecting information from all available
sources, and I have to express my thanks to the Rev. Precentors who have
so readily responded to my circular of appeal.
The result is in some respects disappointing. Choir boarding schools
are not numerous, and are not increasing in number. The agricultural
depression has reduced the revenues of cathedrals and colleges, and they
are likely in the future to seek out cheaper rather than more expensive
modes of working. A few town churches which place music in the front,
have started boarding schools, but, as a rule, the choristers live in
their homes. I have no desire for these boarding schools in the
abstract. I question if the boys get more musical education by living
together than they do by coming for it day by day. But the boarding
school affords the only opportunity for parents who do not live in a
cathedral town to get their boys educated as choristers. The day schools
suit the townspeople well enough, and here and there a boy from a
distance may board with relatives or friends and get into the choir, but
this is exceptional.
I now give the results of my enquiries.
CHOIR BOARDING SCHOOLS.
WORCESTER CATHEDRAL CHOIR SCHOOL.--A preparatory school for the sons of
professional men. Boys admitted as probationers nine to eleven, on
passing examination. The ten choristers and eight probationers are
lodged, boarded, and taught together at the Choir School. Charge L26 per
annum for probationers, and L16 for choristers, plus 7s. 6d. a quarter
for washing. Pianoforte lessons 15s. per quarter. Boys can compete, when
their voices break, for a scholarship at the Cathedral Grammar School.
Several have done this with success. Apply Rev. H. H. Woodward, M.A.,
WESTMINSTER ABBEY CHOIR HOUSE.--Candidates must produce certificate of
baptism and be at least eight years of age. Expected to possess good
voice, moderate knowledge of rudiments, to be able to read and write
fairly, and to pass medical examination. All boys taught vocal music,
and facilities given for learning instruments. Master of choir house
responsible for their general education, which includes English
subjects, French, German, and drawing. Parents must supply clothing, and
usual appointments, school books, pocket money, travelling expenses, and
medical attendance. All other fees paid by the Chapter.
EXETER CATHEDRAL CHOIR SCHOOL.--Fourteen choristers are boarded and
educated for L10 a year, and provided with a suit of clothes each year.
There are always two probationers in the school from eight to ten years
of age paying L35 exclusive of usual extras. Vacancies in choristers
usually filled by probationers, but no pledge given. Possible grants to
deserving choristers when they leave; school fees sometimes paid for
six months or so after the voice has failed. Head master and experienced
ALL SAINTS, MARGARET STREET, LONDON, W.--Twelve choir boys and two
accepted boys waiting for vacancies live in west wing of vicarage under
care of one of the clergy, who gives them lessons each morning, a
certificated master taking them in the evenings. Afternoon, cricket and
football in Regent's Park. Whole holiday Saturdays, and those who live
near enough can go home. Vacations--a week in January and at Easter, and
34 days in August and September. Each boy separate cubicle in dormitory.
Boys have meals in dining hall with clergy (but at separate table). Each
boy pays L12 in first year, L8 in second year, and nothing afterwards.
Gratuity of L10 when voice breaks. Probationers pay L5 per quarter, and
do everything except sing in church. No boy received unless parents wish
him to be brought up in Church of England. Correct ear and brilliant
voice count more at examination than knowledge of music. Apply Vicar.
CHAPEL ROYAL, ST. JAMES'S PALACE.--The ten choristers reside with
Master, who is a priest of the Chapel Royal. Free board and education
and greater part of clothing. Grant of from L30 to L40 on leaving choir
if conduct good. Latin, French, Mathematics, and usual English subjects.
OXFORD, MAGDALENE COLLEGE SCHOOL.--Sixteen choristers, board and
education free. Admitted by open competition. The school is not confined
to choristers; it contains at present 70 boys, many of whom pass on to
OXFORD, NEW COLLEGE.--Eight senior and eight junior choristers take part
in the services. These all receive free education at the College School,
but provide their own books. They are prepared for Oxford Local
Examinations, the College paying fees. Twelve choristers are boarded in
the School House with the master. These are arranged in two divisions
according to musical ability. The first division boarded free, the
second division pays about 6s. a week for the 40 weeks of the school
year. Some fees paid to senior boys and boys of special value as
soloists. Choristers whose parents reside in Oxford receive from 10s. to
L5 a year according to merit and seniority. Gratuity or apprentice fee
not exceeding L40 occasionally given.
FROME, SOMERSET.--St. John Baptist College. Founded by late Rev. W. J.
E. Bennett 36 years ago. Number of boys usually 15; maintained, clothed,
and educated on payment of 7s. a week under twelve, and 8s. above. No
regular holidays. Boys not allowed to leave till they have made their
LINCOLN MINSTER.--Boys boarded and educated at Northgate Schools at
expense of Chapter. English subjects, French, Latin, German, Drawing,
Shorthand, Chemistry. All school books found. Parents pay travelling,
clothing, and washing only. Small allowance of pocket-money. Four weeks'
holiday in the year.
EASTBOURNE, ST. SAVIOUR'S CHURCH CHOIR SCHOOL.--Established 1878. Boys
admitted as boarders or day pupils from eight years of age, choristers
(boarders) pay 32 guineas a year, day choristers 14 guineas.
Instrumental music, German, and Drawing are extras. Other subjects as
for Cambridge local exams. Ten weeks' holiday in the year. Scholarships
of from L5 to L15 a year are awarded to efficient choristers.
RIPON CATHEDRAL CHOIR SCHOOL.--Day boys under 14, L6 per annum; over 14,
L8. Boarders under 12, L40 per annum; over 12, L45. Laundress, L2. Usual
subjects, including modern languages and science. Instrumental music
extra. Four choral scholarships at L30, eight at L25, and six for
probationers at L20. Pupils prepared for University Local Examinations,
Preliminary Law, and Medical, &c. Playground, workshop, cricket field,
library, school magazine.
ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL CHOIR SCHOOL.--Board and education free: parents
provide clothes, travelling, and pocket money. Good voices and musical
talent necessary. Easy preliminary examination in Scripture, three R's,
and Latin. Candidates must be between 8 and 10. Two or three
examinations are held each year according as there are vacancies. Course
of study as usual for public schools. Piano and violin extra. Holidays
at Christmas, Easter, and Summer. Weekly half-holiday. Private field in
suburbs for games. Rev. W. Russell, Succentor, is head master.
SALISBURY CATHEDRAL.--Boarding school for choristers in the Close.
Eighteen boys. Parents pay L15 a year. School has also some pupils who
are not choristers. Usual subjects of secondary school. One ex-chorister
is now a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge. The master is a Minor
Canon. Boys admitted by competition; those from neighbourhood of
Salisbury preferred. Endowment of nearly L1,000 a year for the choir.
ALL SAINTS, CLIFTON.--Choir school for the choristers of All Saints
Church, who can be prepared for public schools or commercial life. There
are twenty choir scholarships, ranging in value from L10 to L25 a year.
A boy holding a junior scholarship may at any time be elected to one of
higher value. School fees for choristers 7 to 10 guineas a term.
Choristers may remain at the school after voice breaks at discretion of
head-master. Holidays at Summer, Christmas, and Easter. The school is
open to boys generally, whether choristers or not.
THE VICAR'S CHOIR SCHOOL, HULL.--Intended for the choristers of Holy
Trinity Church. School fee, L10 10s. per annum. Boarders L40 per annum.
Ten scholarships of the value of L10 10s., ten value L8 8s., and twenty
value L5 5s. Amount of scholarship deducted from boarding fee in case of
those who are admitted into choir. Thirteen weeks' holiday during the
OXFORD, CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL SCHOOL.--Boys are all sons of clergymen
or other professional men. Eight choristers educated, boarded, and
lodged free of expense. Eight probationers, who, if approved, become
choristers as vacancies occur. Probationary period usually from 2 to
2-1/2 years. Probationers pay L25 a year. A few extras, and fee of L3
3s. on election of probationer to choristership. Every boy is, if
possible, passed through the Oxford Local Examinations. Month's holiday
in summer, and short leave of absence either at Christmas or Easter, if
particularly desired. Election by competition after trial of voice and
WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL.--Sixteen choristers sing in the services. These
receive education free, a clothing gratuity of L5 a year, and a leaving
gratuity of from L5 to L20, according to merit and length of service.
There are four boarding scholarships, which leave the parents only L5 a
year to pay. Six of the choristers are foundation boys. Of these, the
two seniors receive L4 a year, and the two juniors L2 a year, but
boarding scholarships and foundation money are not given to the same
boys. There are also four to eight probationers who supply vacancies, if
on second trial their voices are approved. These receive free education.
There are sixty boys in the school.
TENBURY, ST. MICHAEL'S COLLEGE.--Founded by the late Rev. Sir Frederick
Gore-Ouseley in 1856. There are eight choristers, boarded and educated
free. Also eight probationers, from whom the choristers are selected,
who pay 40 guineas a year. Commoners, i.e., boys who do not hold
scholarships, and are not probationers, pay 60 guineas a year; two or
more brothers 55 guineas a year. Preference is given in all elections to
the sons of clergymen. Thirteen weeks' holiday in the year. Sound
classical and mathematical education, to fit for scholarships and the
higher forms at public schools. Healthy situation, in country.
BRISTOL CATHEDRAL.--Boys attend Cathedral Grammar School, where there
are 100 boys.
GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL.--Boys educated and paid up to L10 per annum.
ST. ASAPH.--Boys educated at Grammar School.
WELLS.--Boys educated at Cathedral Grammar School.
YORK.--Boys sent to Archbishop Holgate's School.
TRURO.--Probationers, after serving at least three months, may be
admitted choristers, and receive small quarterly payment. From these are
elected the "choir scholars," of whom there are now ten. These receive
free education and a quarterly gratuity. One boy, with remarkable
contralto voice, comes from a distance, and is boarded and educated at
expense of Dean and Chapter. Enlarged number of boarders contemplated.
ST. PETER'S, EATON SQUARE, LONDON, W.--Special day school with master.
Boys have midday dinner, with tea on practice and late service nights.
Boarding school formerly existed, but is given up.
DURHAM CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
ELY CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
BANGOR.--Choristers brought up in National or Grammar School.
TEMPLE CHURCH, LONDON.--Boys attend Stationers' School.
PETERBOROUGH CATHEDRAL.--Boys educated at King's School.
CHICHESTER CATHEDRAL.--Boys taught at Prebendal School.
INVERNESS CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
ARMAGH CATHEDRAL.--A day school for the choir boys.
HAMPTON COURT, CHAPEL ROYAL.--No boarding school.
NEWCASTLE-ON-TYNE CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
MANCHESTER CATHEDRAL.--A special day school for the choir boys, taught
by a lay clerk. Eighteen to twenty boys receive education free, and four
foundation boys receive L20 per annum. The Precentor likes to have the
boys at nine.
LICHFIELD CATHEDRAL.--Day school taught by a deputy lay clerk, the
succentor taking Latin, English, and Divinity.
DUBLIN, ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
PERTH CATHEDRAL.--No school.
LINCOLN'S INN.--Choristers educated, but not boarded.
NORWICH CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
CARLISLE CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
ROCHESTER CATHEDRAL.--Boys live at home, and attend Cathedral School,
which is not especially for choristers.
LIVERPOOL CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
SOUTHWELL MINSTER.--No boarding school.
ST. ALBAN'S CATHEDRAL.--No boarding school.
From these particulars it will be gathered that the prevailing custom is
for chorister boys to live at home and give their voices in return for
free education. The various boarding schools described differ much in
the terms they offer, and it may be said generally that only an
exceptionally good voice and a personal introduction are likely to
succeed in those cases where free board and education are given. The
number of candidates is so large that selection is difficult.