Thousands of people hear Exeter Cathedral’s Choristers sing each year at services, concerts and on the radio. Timothy Noon (Director of Music) takes us behind the scenes of Chorister life on a typical day.
There are 18 girls and 18 boys in the Cathedral Choir, all aged between 7 and 13. They all go to school at Exeter Cathedral School (founded in the 12th century as a dedicated choir school, but now a vibrant and independent prep school for 275 pupils) and the day usually starts at 8.00 with a chance to let off steam in the playground, just a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral itself. Choristers used to be Boarders (living at school during the week or for a whole term) but now most of them are day pupils drawn from across Devon.
At 8.10 the Choristers line up for their walk to the Cathedral. Their rehearsals begin at 8.20, in specially-converted practice rooms in the west wing of the Bishop’s Palace. The girls and boys normally rehearse separately, although sometimes rehearsals are divided by age, with older and more experienced choristers having a programme that is different from that of the juniors.
A typical rehearsal starts with vocal warm-ups to prepare the voice (and brain!) for singing, before working through the music that will be sung at Evensong later that day. Each service of the term requires different music, which means that rehearsals are often fast-paced. There often needs to be time to look ahead at new or difficult music that might be coming up later in the term, which might include preparing for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast, or a special concert with a visiting orchestra.
After just 50 minutes the Choristers head back to Exeter Cathedral School, where academic lessons, sport, and individual music lessons are packed into a full day, which ends at 15.45. For the Choristers singing Evensong that night (the girls and boys share the daily round of services), this means breaking for Little Tea (a drink and a snack) before returning to the Cathedral for another rehearsal.
This time the Choristers robe in their red cassocks and stiff white ruffs. There’s only 30 minutes of singing on their own before the adult members of the choir (who sing the alto, tenor, and bass voice parts) arrive to put the finishing touches on the music for that day’s service of Choral Evensong. The service is usually around 45 minutes long and is part of the Cathedral’s daily round of worship that continues throughout the year.
The day ends with robes being hung up, and music cleared away. The Choristers return to Exeter Cathedral School at around 18.15 ready to go home, tackle any homework, and get a good night’s sleep before it all begins again the next day.
The optimum age for children to be selected to join the Cathedral Choir is in Year 4 (at the age of 8+) or at the beginning of Year 5. Voice Trials for potential Cathedral Choristers usually take place each year in January, but Timothy Noon (Director of Music) is always happy to receive enquiries from parents of potential Choristers.