Becoming a Choral Scholar

The Choir of St John's College in concert at The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. Photo by Simon van Boxtel.

Behind the Choir’s famously open-hearted musicianship and technical precision is a commitment to the development of every singer. The musical and social are intertwined, and there is a nurturing culture of mutual support that builds confidence and provides the right environment for each individual to flourish. It’s a joy to work with such talented, passionate musicians as we maintain the centuries-old tradition cherished here in Cambridge and all over the world; and old meets new as we enjoy an added dimension brought by our work with many of the UK’s finest contemporary composers. One of the best parts of my job is meeting and hearing potential new choir members who may find a natural home in our Choir. Please get in touch if you are interested in finding out more.

Christopher Gray, Director of Music

There are roughly fifteen Altos, Tenors and Basses in St John’s College Choir at any given time, with both women and men on the Alto line. Some are students at St John's College, and some study at other Cambridge colleges. During term time, rehearsals take place before Evensong on Tuesday to Sunday, and before the sung Eucharist on Sunday morning. Beyond the core commitments in Chapel, the Choir regularly undertakes concerts, CD recordings, broadcasts and international tours that enrich the Choral Scholar experience.

Those applying to be St John’s Choral Scholars are expected to have a good voice, though not necessarily one trained in the choral tradition. Although a proficient sight-reading ability is desirable, it is not essential, provided that applicants demonstrate a strong work ethic and eagerness to improve. Choral Scholars study a wide range of subjects and come from many different backgrounds, schools and musical experiences.  

The College funds singing lessons for all Choral Scholars and covers the costs of all Choir tours and external engagements. Choral Scholars also receive substantial fees for tours, concerts and broadcasts.

Choral Scholars can study all subjects at St John's with the exception of Architecture, Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine.

Brochure

 

YouTube and Social Media

This short video gives you a sense of the unique culture that underpins all that the Gents achieve. It is one of in a mini-series for prospective Choral Scholars which you can find on our YouTube channel.

You can also check out our Facebook page or follow us on Instagram for updates, behind-the-scenes content, and our Choral Scholars’ recent tour blogs.

 

The Choir's routine

The regular weekly commitments for Choral Scholars include evening rehearsals and Evensong Tuesday-Sunday, and a morning rehearsal and Sung Eucharist on Sunday mornings. There are tour and concert commitments, but these are spaced throughout the year and are arranged with care to ensure a healthy balance with academic studies. Unlike many other choirs of our nature, St John’s does not perform regular services throughout the Christmas and Easter seasons, which gives the whole choir more time to rest during these holidays.

Alongside singing with the Choir, Choral Scholars are encouraged to develop singing activities outside the College and many choose to sing in the large number of operas and concerts which happen in Cambridge throughout the year. Many former Choral Scholars are now musicians of international renown. These include Simon Keenleyside, Iestyn Davies, Allan Clayton and Jonathan Nott.

The Gentlemen of St John's
To have sung in the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge was to be offered a glimpse of absolutely everything that music making could be; passion, commitment and emotion on a daily basis. I was the youngest ever chorister, starting at the age of 7 and later a choral scholar. Without question I owe every musical fibre of my being to this choir

Iestyn Davies MBE (Chorister 1987-93, Choral Scholar 1999-2002)

The Gents of St John's sit together on a bench outside with College building in the background.

As well as forming the back row of the Choir, the Choral Scholars also perform as the Gents of St John's: a self-directed ensemble. With a repertoire of music ranging from sacred music and folksongs to their prized close-harmony arrangements (mostly written by current and former members), they are a very popular group in College. As well as the legendary 5.00 a.m. slot at the St John’s May Ball and Christmas gig at the Maypole, the members of the group have a busy yearly schedule of touring, concerts and recordings which can number fifty external engagements.

They have recorded multiple CDs, most recently White ChristmasIndulgence, and Lazing.

Any prospective applicants wanting to find out more about the Gents can email Alice Hilder-Jarvis, the group’s current manager, at manager@gentlemenofstjohns.co.uk.

I've never encountered more wonderful musicians and music-making

Simon Keenlyside (Chorister 1967-72, Choral Scholar 1980-3)

Important application dates for 2024 entry

  • By 16 October 2023: Apply for an academic place at St John's – Candidates should indicate on the form by ticking a box that they wish to be considered for a Choral Award.
  • January 2024Receive academic decision from St John's
  • By 15 February 2024Apply for a Choral Award – Those with a successful academic offer can then apply for a Choral Scholarship; if they have received an offer from another college, they may wish to apply for a volunteer choral position at St John's.
  • 18-20 March 2024Choral Auditions – Those with offers from St John's who expressed an interest in a Choral Award will be invited to audition.

The next University Choral Awards Open Day is on 20 April 2024. The deadline for applying is 1 April 2024

The university also holds Cambridge Choral Experience Days every year for non-fee-paying secondary school students Years 7-13. These will next take place on 22-23 June 2024.

Current Vacancies

For 2024 entry: There are vacancies in all voice parts

Please email us for further information.

Further information

  1. Email the Admissions Department or call them on 01223 338703 for more information on the academic application process and College Open Days.
  2. To find out more about being a Choral Scholar and any choral aspect of your application, email Christopher Gray or you can call the Choir Office on 01223 338718.  We can also arrange for prospective Choral Scholars to meet our Admissions Tutor to discuss which subjects you might wish to study.
Just go for it! Once you’re a Gent, you always have somewhere that you fit in here. I may be biased, but I can’t imagine a better choir to apply to!

Garbhán McEnoy

Five of the Gents sit casually in the Chapel, talking and laughing together.

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Latest webcast

Recorded on
9 March 2024

 

A Meditation on the Passion of Christ is a service of music and readings reflecting on the Passion of Christ. This year the service features music by Byrd, Purcell, Weelkes and MacMillan, as well as the final piece of a triptych of works written for the choir by Joanna Marsh.

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Magnificat 4 includes two commissions written specially for the Choir of St John's College; Jonathan Dove's 2022 canticle setting St John's Service, and Judith Weir's 2011 service of the same name.

Winner of the 2008 Ivor Novello Award for classical music, Jonathan Dove CBE has composed a broad range of works and is one of the most successful British composers today. 

Jonathan was kind enough to share insights into his St John's Service, the compositional process, and what we can look forward to in the future.

The commitment, projection and natural energy of this choir have never failed to inspire me

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