The Choral Scholars

The Gentlemen of St John's College, Cambridge

"You can't build a choir without voices"

The Alto, Tenor and Bass parts are taken by young men who are usually Undergraduates at St John's and who are selected to their places in the College Choir as Choral Scholars. They study a wide range of subjects (all are available except Architecture and Veterinary Medicine) and come from a wide range of schools and backgrounds. "It's where Simon Keenlyside and countless others started. There's still no vocal training like it." Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

Being a Choral Scholar

All Choral Scholars in the University are given £100 per year but a Choral Scholar at St John's would also expect to earn substantial professional fees (at least £1500 per year) for all of the external engagements, to sing at and enjoy the College's major Feasts throughout the year and to be at the centre of the College's most special events such as at the visit of the Queen in 2011. They are also entitled to free singing lessons, usually taken with renowned teacher David Lowe, and access to the Song School with multiple practice rooms. Alongside their commitments to the College Choir, the men of the Choir also perform as The Gentlemen of St John's College, Cambridge.

The Gents

The Gentlemen of St John's perform separately at around 50 external engagements per year (which adds significantly to their earnings!) as well as hosting their famous Garden Party and performing the final set at the St John's May Ball. Choral Scholars on average tend to earn in the region of a further £1500 per year from Gents engagements. As well as singing in the College Choir and The Gents, Choral Scholars often throw themselves into other aspects of College and University life – current Choral Scholars include the President of the May Ball, members of the College's 1st XV rugby team and of the prestigious Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra, and they always maintain a strong presence on the University's concert and opera calendars.


Bursaries are available, from the College’s Choir Association to assist with expenses for taking part in other musical activities and furthering musical careers. Choral and Organ Scholars often go on to highly successful musical careers in many different fields: Alumni include Simon Keenlyside, Iestyn Davies and Allan Clayton (opera singers), David Pountney (opera director), John Scott, David Hill and Stephen Cleobury (conductors).

Applying for a Choral Scholarship

As of 2012, Choral Awards at Cambridge are awarded after candidates have received an academic offer to study at Cambridge. The Cambridge Colleges will hold joint choral auditions in March to assess the vocal abilities of applicants for Choral Awards.

St John's and King's will also hold a two-day choral assessment for their men and boys choirs in September, prior to your Cambridge application via UCAS. This event will allow us to hear individual voices and to advise interested candidates about the nature of choral commitments at St John's and King's. Overnight accommodation will be available for those who need it. Each of the two days will include an opportunity to meet the Directors of Music of both colleges, to learn about the nature of their choral traditions, and to take part in a vocal assessment, much like the Choral Trials.

Those applying are expected to have an outstanding voice, though not necessarily one trained in the choral tradition, and an excellent ear. Good sight-reading is desirable though not essential if the candidate shows potential to improve and willingness to prepare music.

Current Vacancies

2015 entry – 2 Altos, 2 Tenors, 2 Basses
2016 entry – 3 Altos, 3 Tenors and 4 Basses

Andrew Nethsingha, the Director of Music encourages prospective Choral Scholars to come and sing to him at any time of year, before the vocal assessment in September. He can hear your singing, give advice and help you to get a feel for the particular ambience of the Choir. Please email Mr Nethsingha if you would like to arrange a time. He is also happy to arrange for prospective Choral Scholars to meet our Admissions Tutor to discuss which subjects they might wish to study and to meet some of the current Gents.

Step-by-Step guide for application to St John's

  • September: Attend Choral Open Day and Vocal Assessment – Wednesday 1 October (altos & tenors), Thursday 2 October (baritones & basses). . Find out more about being a St John’s Choral Scholar here.
  • By 15 September: Apply for an academic place at St John's – Candidates should indicate on the form (ticking a box) that they wish to be considered for a Choral Award. More information can be found on the St John's College Website.
  • January: Receive academic decision from St John's – Students who apply to St John's but receive an offer from another college through the Winter Pool may be considered for a Choral Award at other colleges. Students who do not receive an academic offer from Cambridge cannot be considered for a Choral Award.
  • By 15 February: Apply – Those with a successful academic offer can then apply officially for a Choral Scholarship to Cambridge.
  • 18-20 March: Choral Auditions – Those with offers from St John's who expressed an interest in a Choral Award will automatically be considered for a Choral Award and invited to the official auditions. See the University Choral Awards pages for more details.

Further information

  1. Contact the Admissions Department for more information on the academic application process and College Open Days (Tel. 01223 338703).
  2. To find out more about being a Choral Scholar and any choral aspect of your application, email Andrew Nethsingha / the Choir Office (or call on 01223 338718).