Royal British Legion celebrates 90 years with Cathedral ConcertThe history of choral music at Coventry Cathedral

In 1918 the parish church of St Michael became the Cathedral of the re-founded Diocese of Coventry. Although St Michael’s had had a long tradition of music and a succession of distinguished organists, it was felt that, along with the great British Cathedrals, a choral tradition would be of great benefit to the church and its congregations.

In the late 1930’s, a scheme of choral scholarships was established, but this was soon interrupted by the outbreak of war and the destruction of the Cathedral. In 1959, Canon J.W. Poole, a former Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral (he had run the choir at Canterbury during the war) was appointed Precentor of the new Cathedral. In February 1959, the establishment of a Coventry Cathedral Choral Foundation was announced to elect ten boys annually to choral scholarships, tenable at King Henry VIII School, Coventry. In this way a choir would be ready to take part in the consecration service due in 1962.

The first voice trial was held in April 1959. Choristers were chosen and they attended the Cathedral for rehearsals and services from September. With the new building not yet complete, services were held in the undercroft, accompanied by a grand piano. In 1961 David Lepine took up his appointment as organist, at which time the choir consisted of 24 trebles, 4 altos, 4 tenors and 4 basses.

In 1976 it was decided to open up entrance to all boys attending schools within the city, though the link with King Henry VIII has not been broken. This was born of a desire to allow opportunities for boys of all social and financial backgrounds. Interestingly, it was not until 1993 that the Cathedral started a Girls Choir: their members are aged 7-18 although some leave at age 16, and they are drawn from schools across the city.

The Choral Clerks are professional men and women from the area who sing the lower parts with the children. The Girls, Boys and Choral Clerks occasionally sing together and all members play a full part in the many services and special events that take place in the Cathedral.

The first Cathedral Choir tour took place in 1963 with a journey behind the iron curtain to East Berlin. Over the years the choir has toured in Europe and America, South Africa and Japan. Coventry Cathedral’s history of destruction and rebuilding is a powerful message of reconciliation for today’s world. The deep connections with Germany continue, and in recent years the choristers have been invited to Germany 5 times to take part in Britten’s monumental War Requiem (composed for the consecration of the Cathedral in 1962). In September 2004, the senior boy and girl Choristers visited the Russian city of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).

At home, the choir has over the years sung at all the great English churches such as Canterbury Cathedral, Truro Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, York Minster, and most recently at St. David’s Cathedral in 2007 and 2008.

In addition to leading services and being involved with many events of educational and spiritual worth, the choristers are also exceptionally highly trained in musical matters. Recently many generous donations have helped us re-establish the chorister scholarships  thanks to a generous grant from the Thomas Garratt Fund we have been able to support choristers’ examination fees in Grade 5 singing and Grade 5 theory.

The Chamber Choir is a 30-voice auditioned adult choir and it sings every fortnight or so as well as at special services, recordings and tours. Recent engagements of the choir include services at Westminster Abbey and a broadcast on BBC Radio.

Choristers: Your Questions Answered
How can my child apply?

We accept applications at any time of the year, but auditions will usually commence in May. Boys aged 7-10 may audition, girls aged 7-11.

Sometimes the Director of Music will hear children audition initially at their school. If interest is expressed then a more formal interview and audition will take place at the Cathedral at a mutually convenient time.

Does my child need to be very musical?

It should be emphasised that it is musical potential rather than actual musical ability that is being sought. Singing in tune, good behaviour and focus are the qualities the choirmaster will look for in a candidate.

What does the audition involve?

The formal test will involve aural tests and a prepared song of the candidate’s choice. If a child plays a musical instrument then we would welcome hearing one of their pieces on this. The atmosphere is friendly and designed to get the best out of your child.

If the audition is successful the chorister will join the choir as a Probationer for six months. If, at the end of this period, the candidate has made good progress and has passed the Probationer Test with at least 80% attendance (on time) to choir events, then full membership is awarded. After this the chorister wears the white surplice at services and receives the annual scholarship

What are the benefits for my child as a Cathedral Chorister?

Our Music staff are professional musicians with extensive experience of teaching, training and nurturing young people. We train choristers in proper vocal production and music reading, nurturing performance skills and confidence. We aim to train them to pass at least Grade 5 Singing and Grade 5 Theory by the time they leave the choir. They will be encouraged to develop their confidence as individuals and as singers through solo singing during their time in the choir. In addition, after the initial probationary period (usually three months) each chorister is awarded a Choral Scholarship worth £200 per annum paid quarterly in arrears.

Does it matter which school my child attends?

No. Unlike many Cathedrals, Coventry Cathedral draws its choristers from schools within the city. Life in the choir is unquestionably demanding both for choristers and parents alike; but at the same time, parents gain satisfaction from the very close relationship they make with the Cathedral – one in which the whole family can share.

Being a chorister provides the chance to learn at an early age to work to exacting professional standards. However, a Cathedral choir is primarily involved in leading worship; and membership of Coventry Cathedral Choir is potentially, therefore, a means of developing spiritual, as well as musical, intellectual and personal gifts.

What is the commitment?

The purpose of the Cathedral Choir is to accompany and sometimes lead worship. We do expect regular commitment to both training, rehearsal and attending services as required. Choir Parents often group together to share transport and supervision responsibilities. It can be a good way for children and their parents to make new friends!

The regular sung services are as follows:

Sundays 

Cathedral Eucharist at 10.30 am with a rehearsal from 9.00 am

Choral Evensong at 4.00 pm with a rehearsal from 3.00 pm

The Boys’ Choir and Girls’ Choir alternate at Sunday services i.e. Boys in the morning, Girls in the afternoon one week, switching each week.

Wednesdays

Evensong: 5.15 pm (Boy Choristers) with rehearsal at 4.20 pm.

Thursdays 

Evensong: 5.15 pm (Girl Choristers) with rehearsal at 4.20 pm.

Weekly Rehearsals and Training Sessions

Practices for the boys are in the Cathedral Song School on Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 4.20 pm to 6.00 pm and Saturday mornings from 9.00 am to 10.00 am. Practices for the girls are in the Cathedral Song School on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 4.20pm until 6.00 pm.

Fortnightly training sessions (music theory, sight-singing, vocal technique and repertoire) are on Mondays for the girl choristers and on Tuesdays for the boy choristers.

For more information about your child joining the Cathedral Choir please contact the Director of Music to arrange an appointment. Telephone +44 (0)24 7652 1219 or email kerry.beaumont@coventrycathedral.org.uk. Please tell us your child’s age and the school currently attended.

Cathedral Chamber Choir

The Chamber Choir does not have a regular weekly rehearsal commitment. Members are required to attend for rehearsal the Thursday evening before a Saturday or Sunday service, with a rehearsal immediately before the service as well. Chamber Choir members are provided with a ‘Cathedral Maroon’ cassock and tabard.

The Chamber Choir currently has vacancies in the alto section of the choir, but all singers are welcome to register their interest.

For more information about joining the Cathedral Chamber Choir please contact the Director of Music to arrange an appointment. Telephone +44 (0)24 7652 1219 or email kerry.beaumont@coventrycathedral.org.uk.