For 1400 years choristers have been cherished as one of the country’s oldest cultural traditions. Choir schools, attached to cathedrals or university colleges, are regarded as part of our heritage.
Music is an integral part of life at Rugby School and Bilton Grange Preparatory School (which merged with Rugby in January 2020 to become part of the Rugby School Group). Why not have our own chorister programme? Especially as we have three beautiful chapels, each with an excellent organ. One for boys and girls? And offer not only the best education but the best musical training for children who love to sing?
So, in September 2022, Bilton Grange will become the first prep school to start its own new independent chorister programme, with opportunities to join for girls and boys across Years 3 to 8.
“The new choristers will need to have stamina as well as talent.”
I was a chorister (and a music scholar) at St Paul’s Cathedral and was lucky enough to enjoy a world-class music education through the discipline of singing at the highest level every day. However, it’s hard work. You need to be dedicated. Our new choristers will have to incorporate instrumental studies, music theory, aural training and vocal coaching into an already busy academic day (plus all our co-curricular choices). They will need to have stamina as well as talent.
Their schedule will also include a daily morning rehearsal plus a service, Evensong or Eucharist, in Chapel on four afternoons a week. In time, concerts, tours, recordings and broadcasts will be an essential component. However, unlike cathedral chorister programmes ours will not involve weekends, a decision which we hope will be attractive to families.
Like Rugby School, Bilton Grange has an extensive music provision. All Year 2 pupils learn a string instrument and all Year 3 pupils a brass instrument, with daily singing for all pupils. We believe that singing in a choir is one of the best team activities that children can take part in.
More than a third of Rugby’s students, many of them having come from Bilton Grange, have music lessons and around 450 instrumental, vocal and theory lessons take place every week, with 120 music performances staged every year.
“Governments pay lip service to the arts, but they are the first subjects to disappear when a ‘slimmed-down’ curriculum is discussed.”
Neuroscience research has shown that encouraging children to take up musical activities leads not only to enhanced memory but also improved attention, motivation and self-confidence. So that’s a bit of a bonus. And, as for choristers, they learn significant skills beyond music-making – patience and respect, self-discipline and organisation – and acquire the ability to listen carefully and follow detailed instructions, all of which have a positive impact on their academic performance.
But music is also about joyful expression, whether you are playing for yourself or for an audience, singing – or just listening.
Successive governments pay lip service to the arts, but they are the first subjects to disappear when a “slimmed-down” curriculum is discussed. Children need music and dance; the chance to sing and paint. So we make sure there are plenty of arts opportunities for our students to choose from; it is an intrinsic element of our school’s “Whole Person Whole Point” ethos.
“Children need music and dance; the chance to sing and paint.”
We recognise that we are a privileged school but we are one of obligation. I’ve always been committed to creating opportunities for children to be inspired by the sort of experience I had, regardless of their personal circumstances and background.
As well as our music scholarships (we have 20 new music scholars this year, bringing the total across the school to 65), Rugby’s music department has a programme of partnership work with local schools which aims to raise musical aspirations and experiences as well as provide pleasure and fun for children who may have little or no contact with making music. It will be wonderful to get this up and running again, post lockdown.
“The cassocks are already being designed.”
A few days into the new school year and recruitment is already underway to identify our new choristers. This time next year, we hope to have 40 of them – what a wonderful club to be a member of! And the cassocks are already being designed.
As our executive head master, Peter Green, has said: “A choir is an affirmation of shared humanity, spiritual solace and joy. The restrictions on communal singing and the silence of church choirs were a painful part of lockdown. The world needs to get back to singing together. Especially children.”
We shall certainly be marking International Chorister Day on 19 September – an initiative of the Royal School of Church Music (founded in 1927 by organist and composer Sir Sydney Nicholson who, incidentally, attended Rugby School).