Choral and organ awards

Choral and Organ Awards Open Day 2022

Saturday 30 April 2022

 

Oxford's college chapels provide outstanding opportunities for participating in liturgical music as well as offering exceptional performance, touring and recording experience. Many colleges offer awards to singers and organists who contribute to this aspect of college life. Choral scholars are trained to a very high level through their college chapel choir and some go on to become professional singers. Toby Spence, Emma Kirkby and Robin Blaze were all Oxford choral scholars.

Organ scholars also play a crucial part in Oxford music. In some colleges, they direct the music in chapel; in others they assist professional directors. The role develops skills in choral accompanying, direction, and administration. Many Oxford organ scholars have gone on to become celebrated musicians whilst others have attained distinction elsewhere, including a Prime Minister and a Hollywood actor.

Join us on our open day to find out what's involved in being an organ or choral scholar and how you can apply! The open day includes informative talks and Q&As with current students and Directors of Music, as well as advice on how to prepare for auditions. You'll also have the opportunity to take part in choral, organ, and conducting workshops in various historic college chapels, and to join one of our college choirs for Evensong. 

 

Timetable 

Singers

choir

11.00   Doors Open at the Holywell Music Room (one parent/guardian may accompany each prospective applicant)

11.30   Introduction to Choral Scholarships, Holywell Music Room

12.45   Break for lunch (please make your own arrangements)

14.00   Choral workshops in Magdalen College and The Queens College

15.45   Break for tea (please make your own arrangements)

17.00   Rehearsal for Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral and in the chapels of Magdalen, Merton, New, Oriel, Queen’s, St Peter’s, and Worcester Colleges and St Edmund Hall

18.00   Choral Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral and in the chapels of Magdalen, New, Oriel, Queen’s, and St Peter’s Colleges

18.15   Choral Evensong in the chapels of Merton and Worcester Colleges and St Edmund Hall

 

Organists

organ

10.30   Doors open, Shulman Auditorium, The Queen’s College

11.00   Introduction to Organ Scholarships, Shulman Auditorium

12.15   Organ workshops in the chapels of Jesus, Lincoln, and Pembroke Colleges

13.30  Break for lunch (please make your own arrangements)

14.00  Choral conducting workshop, Merton College

15.30   Masterclass for current organ scholars given by Robert Quinney, New College chapel

17.00   Rehearsal for Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral and in the chapels of Magdalen, Merton, New, Oriel, Queen’s, St Peter’s, and Worcester Colleges and St Edmund Hall

18.00   Choral Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral and in the chapels of Magdalen, New, Oriel, Queen’s, and St Peter’s Colleges

18.15   Choral Evensong in the chapels of Merton and Worcester Colleges and St Edmund Hall

Other visits

Under normal circumstances, you are welcome to visit the University. College grounds are usually open to prospective applicants but you can also get in touch with the college linked to your region and let them know you are coming.  You may also be able to attend an event listed in our outreach calendar whilst you’re here.

For up-to-date information about organ awards, including how to apply, please see the main University page here.


A brief overview:

What is an organ scholar?

Organ scholars are students (usually undergraduates) who direct or assist with the music in a college chapel. The nature and scope of the responsibilities varies from college to college. In addition to organ playing abilities, competence in choral direction and (to a lesser extent) administration are typically needed. In some colleges, the organ scholar may also act as an organiser of musical activities more generally.

 

Organ scholars take charge of, or assist with, the music of the college chapel. The scope of the responsibilities and the nature of the duties vary from college to college, but in most cases require competence as organist, choir trainer and (more modestly perhaps) administrator. In a number of colleges, the organ scholar also acts as an organiser of general musical activity. There is a modest fee paid, but in a number of colleges this is supplemented by additional payments for services rendered and by fees for special events. Many colleges also pay for organ tuition.

Which colleges offer organ awards?

In all, there are 23 colleges in Oxford which offer organ awards.

They are: BalliolBrasenoseChrist ChurchCorpus ChristiHertford,  ExeterJesusKebleLady Margaret HallLincolnMagdalenMansfield,  MertonNew CollegeOrielPembrokeQueen’sSt Edmund HallSt Peter’s CollegeSomervilleTrinityUniversity, and Worcester College.

 

The colleges may be grouped into two basic categories:-

First, there are those where the organ scholar is in charge of chapel music. These are Balliol, Corpus Christi, Exeter, Hertford, Jesus, Lincoln, Pembroke and Trinity Colleges. The duties here range from one to three services per week.

Secondly, there are those where the organ scholar assists a professional Director of Music. These are Brasenose, Christ Church, Keble, Lady Margaret Hall, Magdalen, Mansfield, Merton, New, Oriel, Queen’s, Somerville, St Edmund Hall, St Peter’s, University and Worcester Colleges. In this second group, the range of commitment varies widely from two services a week to nearly daily commitment at the choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen College and New College).

You are advised to consult college websites or contact college Directors of Music and Chaplains to find out full details of the commitment required of organ scholars in different colleges.

How do I apply?

Full information about organ awards and about the application process for them can be found at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/choral-and-organ-awards/organ-awards

THE CHOIRS

There are three choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen College and New College) which sing daily services during Full Term (Christ Church sings for longer terms including Christmas and Easter). These three choirs and several of the mixed-voice choirs enjoy an international reputation, and have busy schedules of concert performances, tours, recordings, and broadcasts. The choral foundation choirs comprise boy trebles (educated at the college schools) and adult voices. At Christ Church and New College there are between six and eight ‘lay clerks’ (i.e. paid singers) and six to eight choral scholars (or ‘academical clerks’). At Magdalen College, there are up to three lay clerks and nine choral scholars. There are specific vacancies for altos, tenors, and basses (including baritones). The musical directors of the choral foundations and several of the mixed-voice choirs are senior members of the University. Among the mixed-voice choirs, Queen’s, Merton, and Exeter sing three services a week in term-time, and most of the other mixed-voice choirs sing one or two services at week. At Worcester College there are boy trebles, in addition to sopranos. At all colleges, except the choral foundations, choral awards are offered to sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.

Many other colleges offer opportunities to sing in their college choirs, but do not participate in the choral awards scheme. Please see individual college websites for details.

For more detailed information on submission deadlines etc., please visit the University’s website.

THE CHORAL SCHOLARS

If you are appointed to a choral award you will sing in the college’s chapel choir under the direction of the director of music or organ scholar. There is a financial award, which is supplemented in some colleges by additional payments and fees for special events. Many colleges help pay for singing lessons.

You can find out more by visiting the individual college websites, and by consulting the document ‘College Organ & Choral Scholarship Details 2021-22’, under ‘related documents’ at https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/choral-and-organ-awards/choral-awards

HOW TO APPLY

There are two parts to the entry procedure – the choral audition (in September) and the academic interview (in December – as part of the UCAS admissions process). The audition is to assess your vocal and musical aptitude, while for the academic interview you will join all the other candidates competing for places at Oxford. In both September and December, you will be accommodated at your first choice college, which will pass on a detailed timetable closer to the time. There are two separate application forms: a choral application form and the UCAS form.  If you click on the link below you will also find there detailed instructions about the choral application form – its completion, on the choice of college, and the audition. You should submit it by noon on 1 September. A few days after the choral audition you will receive a letter telling you whether you have reached a standard to be considered for a choral award. Of course, this refers only to the choral award – since there has been no academic interview at this stage. UCAS forms should then be submitted. The closing date is 15 October. It is only after the full admission procedure and academic interview in December that you will hear whether you have been offered a choral award.

The choral award application form is available here

THE CHORAL AUDITION

For choral singers a quick ear and an aptitude for sight-reading are both important, especially in choirs that perform a large repertory. These skills need to be developed as much as the voice and vocal technique. They can be improved with steady work. Organists and tutors are aware that a candidate may have been singing for a relatively short period, and will take this into account. But a candidate ought to have had some systematic singing tuition before the audition. When you choose a piece to perform at the audition it is important to bear in mind range and technique. Select music that displays your vocal and musical capabilities to the full, without going beyond what your technique can support. You do not have to perform sacred music. It is better to sing a complete solo than a verse sections from a longer anthem. Remember a successful audition does not automatically mean that a choral award will be offered; this will depend upon the strength of competition from other candidates. You have to gain a place in open competition with others applying for the same honours degree course. Please consult the organist or music tutor of colleges offering choral awards for further advice.

After you come up to Oxford, the Betts Association can help to support your organ studies, as well as your work in your college chapels. The Betts Association, headed by the Betts Fellow in Organ Studies, offers masterclasses in organ by internationally-renowned performers and teachers, and catch-up classes in topics that may be of use to organ scholars, such as an Anglican Chant Primer; Running an efficient and effective choir rehearsal; Useful Organ Repertoire, etc. Social occasions are also important, since organ scholars often work in isolation from one another.

The annual Organ Scholars' Dinner is a particular highlight of the year, and a time when all the organ scholars can come together, get to know each other, and compare notes. In addition, the Betts Association organises trips to the Continent once or twice a year to visit and play historic organs. These trips, generously supported by the Betts Fund, are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to play some of the magnificent organs so often seen in pictures and heard in recordings.

Not only are these study tours true eye-openers to the rich world of organ literature and music history, but they are also tremendous fun and a good way to get to know colleagues.