Budding young singers are being offered a rare opportunity to sing with a college choir in one of Oxford University’s oldest chapels while also enjoying lots of fun activities and the chance to make new friends.
Merton College Girls’ Choir currently has spaces for girls who will be in years 4 and 5 in September this year, by which time hopefully things will be back to some kind of normality.
“It’s for any girls who love to sing and want to get free singing lessons,” explains Lizzie Casey, the Chapel Administrator. “It’s a serious commitment, but the rewards are pretty great as well.”
The choir was formed in 2016 and is conducted by Benjamin Nicholas, Merton’s Reed Rubin Organist and Director of Music.
Auditions for the new intake are being held on 8th May, and Lizzie is keen to stress that these are fairly relaxed and certainly nothing to fear.
“The audition consists of a song of the girls’ choice, which they’re welcome to prepare. They sing for the Director of Music, and should bring the sheet music along. It’s not particularly important what they sing at that point – it’s just something they feel comfortable singing and that shows off their voice.
“There’s also a little chat with me and the Director of Music, but quite informal, and then some vocal exercises.”
Previous experience is useful but not essential, as Lizzie explains: “We’ve got an online form, for them to add if they play any instruments or have sung in choirs before.
“But we’ve taken girls of all ages who’ve never sung in a choir before but just really love to sing. We gauge potential from the audition. The training comes from us, the enthusiasm for singing comes from them.
“The other thing is that it is a church choir, but there’s no need for the girls to be religious or to have any background with church singing. They just have to be comfortable with singing the services in chapel each week.
“we’ve taken girls of all ages who’ve never sung in a choir before but just really love to sing”
“We sing a service every week of term, on a Wednesday, and rehearsals are twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays after school, plus tours and residential trips.”
But being in the choir doesn’t stop with weekly services. There are many more opportunities to sing around the city and beyond. There have been residential trips to Cheltenham, Chichester and Cirencester, and a four-day tour of the North East, which included singing in Durham Cathedral.
The girls also get to sing in Merton’s annual Passiontide Festival.
“That’s really exciting for them because they get to sing with professional choirs and professional orchestras, which is wonderful,” says Lizzie.
“They’ve also sung at the Sheldonian Theatre, they do Christmas concerts and carol services, and there’s lots of fun activities as well.
“There’s choristers’ tea before rehearsals, outside of Covid, so they get the chance to make really great friends with each other, and we record CDs, so we’ll be recording our Christmas CD this summer.
“We also have a retreat each summer, which includes rehearsals but also lots of fun and games.”
Repertoire for the choir ranges from Bach, Mozart and Haydn to more recent composers such as Howells, Tavener, Rutter and MacMillan.
Covid has obviously affected the choir’s normal routine, but socially distanced rehearsals have been able to go ahead in Merton’s sports pavilion, which has proved popular among the choristers.
“They really love it, because they love the outdoor space,” says Lizzie. “They get to play tennis ball games and run around and have loads of fun, whereas in the college there’s a lot of having to be quiet. They really love being out and about.”
So, what can the new intake expect in September?
“They’ll start off as probationers, which is the first step to becoming a chorister,” explains Lizzie. “They get small group training with a professional singing teacher, they learn the parts of the service, they forge a really lovely bond with each other as a little group, and they come in each Monday to sing in chapel, getting the chance to experience what it would be like to be a chorister, and to train up to be a full chorister when they’re ready.”
To find out more about the choir, download the brochure from www.merton.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2021-02/Chorister%20Brochure%20smaller.pdf
For auditions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org