King’s Choristers are recognised the world over, perhaps largely due to the iconic Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which is broadcast live from King’s College Chapel on Christmas Eve. There is no doubting that choristers have an unparalleled musical education steeped in tradition. Here, they are educated at King’s College School, which grew from the foundations provided by King Henry VI, and is located across the river and just a few minutes’ walk from King’s College Chapel where they sing in services throughout the year. It is a life of full immersion; as well as going to school here, for much of the time, they live here too.
The school day is long and purposeful; it is creative and varied; children learn to be organised and to work to targets. They are encouraged to have a voice! For King’s Choristers there is a very well defined daily schedule. As with any high level pursuit in sport, in instrumental study, in dance, or in art, rigorous preparation, practice and the attention to detail in the development process are very much what underpin success. The boarding experience offers support in developing a child’s sense of ownership of their own learning and life experience. Of course there must be scaffolding: care, kindness, trust, challenge, support and understanding. Staff are always around to share the joys and occasional struggles of life – or just for a chat at the end of the day! Below are some Frequently Asked Questions, which might help you as you discern if this is the right pathway for your son.
Being A Chorister
What are you looking for in a Chorister?
An enthusiasm for music and, in particular, singing! Your son will start off as a ‘Probationer’ for two years, during which time he will learn many of the skills he will need to become a fully-fledged chorister. Some of the most important aspects we look for, in addition to enthusiasm, are concentration, good reading skills, an ability to work as part of a team, and a supportive family. We don’t expect your son to already read music.
What is a ‘Probationer’?
During a boy’s first two years in the Choir, he is called a Probationer and receives training to become a full Chorister. Probationers get used to singing regularly and learn the repertoire and the role of being a Chorister.
What does the training entail?
Before becoming a King’s Chorister, your son will usually undergo a two-year probationary period. Most boys start as a Probationer in Year 4, when they are given training to enable them to start performing with the Choir at some point in Year 5. Most boys become a full Chorister at an induction ceremony in Year 6, at which point he will receive his top hat – a proud moment for both you and your son!
When will his Choristership end?
At the end of Year 8, when boys are thirteen; this coincides with them leaving King’s College School and moving to senior school. If a boy’s voice changes before the end of Year 8, he may have to stop singing with the Choir. In this eventuality he will continue to be supported within the School, although he will may choose to board weekly rather than stay at the School at weekends.
How does the work of a Chorister fit in with the usual school day?
All King’s Choristers follow a normal timetable alongside the other students at King’s College School. Instrumental and Chorister practices take place before the school day begins or within the school day, and choral services in King’s Chapel are at the end of the day, minimising the impact on a normal school day.
Can you explain the financial arrangements for being a Chorister?
King’s College pays around two-thirds of the boarding school fees. King’s makes every effort to ensure that Choristerships are open to any boy with the right musical ability; please contact the school if you have questions regarding financial support. All tours are fully funded by the College with the exception of pocket-money.
How often do the Choristers perform?
The Choristers sing services in Chapel as part of the Choir on five days of the week, during the three eight-week University terms, with two additional weeks in July. The Choristers also take part in a number of concerts, recordings and other events during the year, including at Easter and Christmas.
What happens about concerts and touring?
In addition to regular services at King’s College Chapel during the three eight-week University terms, the Choir performs in a number of concerts every year. These take place nationally and internationally, and present an exciting opportunity for your son to travel around the world, learning about and experiencing different countries and cultures.
When will my son start boarding?
Probationers (usually pupils in Year 4 and for much of Year 5) do not sing at weekends, and essentially operate as weekly boarders. Full Choristers (Years 6 to 8) board throughout the term and whenever the Choir is on duty, including Christmas and Easter; Choristers return home for a number of weekend exeats through the year. Parents are asked to work with us in being fully in support of the boarding ethos of the choir and to actively encourage their children to spend ‘free’ time in the Boarding House. This is essential to the sense of supporting their Choristership, and the preparation for touring, which afford so much by way of independence and confidence for every child.
How often are parents able visit?
There are lots of opportunities for you to see your son, both in the Boarding House and in their free time. In addition, all boys are welcome to go out with parents on a Wednesday afternoon after School. There are also opportunities for those boarding over the weekend to go out with parents.
What is the food like?
King’s College School prides itself on the excellence of its food – everything is cooked on the premises and is supplied by the best local suppliers. The kitchen has been awarded 5 stars for its excellent food hygiene. The boarders get to know the kitchen staff very well, and evening and weekend meals have a lovely feel to them, often with a theme (e.g. Halloween, Chinese New Year).
How is prep (homework) managed?
There are two prep sessions – one with the younger boys and one with the older boys. Prep is always supervised, and the boys are encouraged to ask for help with their work if needed. They can leave prep to join in with the evening activities once their prep diary has been signed by a member of staff.
Should a boy wish to do academic work outside the allocated prep time, for example as he approaches academic scholarship exams, he is able to do so, and there are always staff on-hand to help.
What activities are there in the evenings?
The Choristers combine their busy Choir schedule with schoolwork, and plenty of down-time. At the end of each day, activities are available to allow the boys to let off some steam if they want to, or they can relax in one of the well-equipped, comfortable common rooms. At all times, but in particular at the weekends, the Choristers have use of the excellent facilities here. There is always an outdoor activity, ranging from football, to touch rugby, swimming and dodgeball; for those who would rather be more sedate in the evening, we provide games such as chess, pool, table-football, baking and lego.
What are the sleeping arrangements in the Boarding House?
Boarders sleep in dormitory accommodation, usually arranged by Year group. Each boarder has his own personal bed area, including wardrobe space, a bedside cupboard and an under-bed drawer. In addition, they each have a pin board over or near to their bed on which they can attach posters, photos or cards and letters. We make the dormitories as comfortable as possible, so that the children feel at home. There are no more than eight beds to a dormitory.
What happens at the weekend?
The weekend schedule is busy, but we make the most of the free time – the staff arrange activities for the boys to enjoy, or they may go out with their family. The Year 8 boarders have the privilege of being able to walk into town in a group.
What are the bedtimes?
The boys go up to their dormitories 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. They have 15 minutes quiet time, in which we read to the younger children; the older children are encouraged to read their own books, although even our Year 8 boys enjoy being read to at times!
Bedtimes in the winter are:
– Year 4: 8.15 pm
– Year 5: 8.30 pm
– Year 6: 8.45 pm
– Year 7: 9.00 pm
– Year 8: 9.15 pm
These times are 15 minutes later in the summer months.
What happens at Christmas and Easter?
Once your son is a full Chorister, he will sing at all the Christmas and Easter services. While it might seem hard to be away from home at these family times, in fact the boys have a great deal of fun, and this is often one of their favourite memories of their time in the choir. When they are not singing, there is a programme of special trips and activities, including going bowling or to the cinema.
Following the live broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, the boys have a Christmas dinner with family and staff, and a party. Father Christmas pays a visit to the House and the boys have a lovely Christmas morning.
The children are free to go home after the Christmas Day Service in Chapel, which finishes at around midday.
Easter is similar, although this time the Easter Bunny comes to visit the House in an Easter Egg Hunt, following another family lunch.
At what age should my son apply to King’s?
Most boys will be between the ages of six and nine at the time of their audition, ideally in Year 2 or 3. Sometimes we have spaces for older boys; please get in touch.
How do I know if my son is the right standard for King's?
The first step is to contact Katie Randle on 01223 365814 or email email@example.com to arrange a telephone or zoom conversation, tour or informal audition.
How do I find out if King's is right for my son?
We believe that being a Chorister at King’s provides an unbeatable start to life, with the benefits of skills that last a lifetime. It’s normal to have lots of questions, and we encourage you to contact us for an informal discussion.
We are always able to offer an informal audition and a meeting with the Choir’s director Mr Hyde, and a tour of King’s College School. These are useful occasions for you to ask the questions you will have about being a Chorister, and to find out whether the chorister life is right for your son and for your family.
How should I start the process?
To start with, we would love to hear from you if you are considering a choristership at King’s for your son, or even if you just have some questions: contact Katie Randle on 01223 365814 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What happens at the audition day?
During your son’s audition, which lasts approximately 8 – 10 minutes, he will first be asked to sing a short and simple prepared song to a small group of people, usually including the Choristers’ singing teacher, and Mr Hyde, the Director of Music. It’s ideal if you can provide two copies of the music so that we can accompany your son on the piano. Mr Hyde will also ask him to do some aural tests such as clapping back a rhythm, picking notes out of a simple chord and singing back a melody played on the piano. If your son plays a musical instrument (by no means a necessity), he will be asked to play a short piece to the School’s Director of Music, Mr James Randle. He will also meet Mr Colin Dely (the School’s Head of the Junior School) who will ask him to do some academic tests (Maths, Spelling, Reading, Reasoning). In between times, he will be able to play games with the other boys taking part, overseen by one of the Boarding House staff, meet the pupils in his year group who are already pupils at King’s, and have a tour of the school. The morning is busy, but the boys auditioning often come away feeling very positive about their experience.
When are the auditions?
We hold auditions at several points in the year and can be arranged on a individual basis.
What sort of music should my child prepare?
A simple song, even a hymn, will be suitable – just something that your son enjoys singing. It may be sacred or secular. We ask that you bring two copies of the music so that the Director of Music can accompany on the piano.
How long will the audition last?
Around 8-10 minutes.
What are you looking for in a chorister?
An enthusiasm for music and, in particular, singing! Your son will start off as a ‘Probationer’ for two years, during which time he will learn many of the skills he will need to become a fully-fledged chorister. Some of the most important aspects we look for, in addition to enthusiasm, are reasonable concentration, an ability to work as part of a team, and a supportive family.
© Geoff Robinson
The Audition Process and FAQ
If you would like more information about Chorister auditions, please get in touch with the Registrar, Katie Randle on 01223 365814 or email email@example.com.
For further information about Choristership at King’s College Cambridge, please contact us.