Girl Choristers - Hurrah!

Posted on: 06 Dec 2021

1638800198191This photo was taken in 1986, the annual choir photo for the parish church choir of St Martin’s Church in Winterborne St. Martin (Martinstown), Dorset.

The choir was fun and run by someone who was very capable and competent. I loved being a chorister and, for me, it was the start of a lifelong love of choral music.

Around the time that this photo was taken we visited our local cathedral, Salisbury, to sing in the RSCM festival. I remember wandering around the cathedral and spotting a board that had all sorts of information on it designed to persuade young children to want to become a cathedral chorister. It worked. However, it didn’t take me long to work out that this opportunity was not on offer to me simply because I happened to be a girl.

My choristership at St Martin’s was wonderful and there is no doubt that it was instrumental in helping me gain a scholarship to Clayesmore School where I was an overly keen member of the Chapel Choir and sang Alto in the school barber shop quartet. This led to singing with a semi-professional adult choir whilst a sixth former, a couple of Eton Choral Courses, two music degrees and, ultimately, the Headship of a remarkable choir school. I will always be thankful for the opportunities I had and how they have shaped the path I have taken.

Salisbury was, of course, the most enlightened cathedral at the time but the introduction of their girls’ choir in 1991 was a few years too late for me. Whilst I regret not having had the chance to be a cathedral chorister, I am always delighted to see more and more opportunities being offered to all children.

This morning, Chichester Cathedral announced the recruitment of girl choristers to start in September 2022, singing alongside their classmates on equal terms and in a full-time capacity. The choir, which is already exceptional, can only get better and better as the recruitment pool all of a suddenly doubles in size. I have very much enjoyed working alongside my colleagues in the cathedral in working out the best way to give girls the chance to be choristers. Much careful thought and consideration has gone into the decision and I wholeheartedly believe it to be the right one.

There is, of course, always some debate in musical circles that relate to the pros and cons of mixing a top line. Having run a number of very successful children's choirs myself, I have always found that it works very well. All children sound different, and a talented choral director will have the expertise to ensure that they blend. All choirs have a different sound - even those with single-sex top lines - and I am looking forward to seeing what great heights Charles Harrison reaches with the choir over the next few years.

The current choristers were very excited to hear the news, and almost immediately began suggesting which of their classmates may like to join the choir. In a school like Prebendal, where equality is promoted at every level, boys think nothing of joining in with girls whether in a concert of on the sports field. I told the rest of the school in Assembly today and asked if anyone had any questions. Do they have to board like the boys? Yes. Do they wear the same cassocks? Yes. And from a current Chorister: “Why haven’t girls been allowed to be choristers until now?”

Today, the little girl in the photo could not be happier to see others have the opportunities that she didn’t.

To read all about it, please see Chichester Cathedral’s website.