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Joining the Choir

Is a choristership the right thing for my son?

If he shows an enthusiasm for singing and music then the answer may well be yes. The best choristers are boys with a lot of character and energy, plus an enquiring mind and willingness to learn.

If you think that choristership is something that you would like to explore further, we are always delighted to hear from you. As a first step you can contact the Director of Music at the Cathedral, Paul Trepte, for an informal chat to find out more about what being a chorister entails. After this, if you think that being a chorister is right for your son, it's a good idea for him to come and sing informally to Paul, who can advise on the next steps and whether he's ready to come for an audition. 

You can also contact King's Ely to find more about life in the Junior section, and organise a taster day (with no further commitment) when your son can get to know the school, and you can judge if it's the right environment for him.

Does my son already need to play an instrument or be having singing lessons?

Absolutely not! We are looking for potential, and much more important than previous musical experience are a clear natural voice and a good musical ear which we can train during your son's time in the choir. Of course, boys who already a play an instrument and/or have singing lessons are very welcome to audition, but it's not a pre-requisite.

At what age can my son become a chorister?

Ideally, boys audition between the ages of 6 and 9. The youngest choristers are in Year 3 (ages 7-8), so your son can apply to join the choir from Year 2 onwards. Most boys join the choir in Year 3 or 4: it's unusual for them to start later than Year 6. Boys in Year 3 follow a lighter timetable and don't have to board until Year 4.

When are the auditions (known as voice trials)?

We are always delighted to receive enquiries and to meet potential choristers and their families at any time, and boys often join during the academic year.

What happens at the voice trial?

The voice trial is designed to be very informal and relaxed, and we make every effort to put boys at ease so that they perform at their best. Your son will be invited to sing to the Cathedral Music Staff and the Director of Music at King's Ely Junior: the audition consists of simple ear tests and clapping games. We also ask for a prepared song, and like to hear boys perform a short piece on a musical instrument, if they already play one. Before the audition, your son will work with one of our singing tutors, who will get his voice warmed up and practise some of the games and tests used in the voice trial.

What do we need to prepare for the voice trial?

A simple song or hymn is all we really need to hear. The most important thing is that your son can sing it well and with enthusiasm and confidence.

What else happens on voice trial day?

As well as the vocal audition, your son will be asked to undergo some written tests in English and Maths. Boys and parents also meet the Head of King's Ely Junior and a member of the Cathedral clergy. This gives you a chance to ask any questions you may have about the school or the choir.

What happens next?

We will let you know within approximately 24 hours if we would like to offer your son a place in the choir. The next step is for your son to spend a day at King's Ely Junior and a night in the boarding house to settle in and get to know the boys and staff. If all is well, we will confirm the place and your son is ready to take up his choristership.

I have a very musical daughter - do you offer choristerships for girls?

Yes, although our girl choristers are older. They attend King's Ely Senior and are aged between 13 and 18. You can find out more about this fantastic opportunity here.

We're not a Christian family - does this matter?

No. Although King's Ely and Ely Cathedral maintain a Christian ethos, we welcome students from all backgrounds here.

Starting Life in the Choir

What is the chorister training like?

Boys starting in the choir have a lot to learn and they are called "probationers" to begin with. They have a lighter schedule than more experienced boys, but are given a lot of extra help with reading music and developing their singing voice, and they quickly progress and pick up new skills. If they start in Year 3 they follow a very light schedule, attending Evensong once a week. The commitment increases gradually depending on the individual, and by Year 4 they are ready to follow the full probationer schedule.

Boys in Year 4 attend all rehearsals during the week, and sing Evensong on Tuesday and Thursday. They are quickly awarded a surplice (the white garment which goes on top of their red cassock) to show that they're on the right track; boys often receive this in their first term in Year 4.

Who can I talk to if I want help or advice when my son joins?

The School staff and Cathedral music staff are always happy to help you with any questions you may have at the beginning of your son's choristership. In addition, new parents are all matched up with "mentor" parents, whose sons have been in the choir for a while. They can answer lots of questions from a parental perspective and new parents find this additional resource very helpful and reassuring.

When are probationers admitted as full choristers?

Probationers typically become full choristers in their second or third term as a boarder; they are said to have been "installed" and now wear a medal in services showing that they have successfully completed their probationary period. This period is sometimes shorter for older or more experienced boys.

Singing in the Choir

What is the weekly schedule?

The choir's schedule is varied, and so no two weeks are exactly the same. The boys are on duty during school terms, as well as at Christmas and Easter, and in general they sing Evensong at 5.30 on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and two services on Sunday (at 10.30am and 4.00pm). They rehearse each day before school, and after school on Mondays.

However, there are no rehearsals or services on Wednesdays and we work hard to ensure that boys can spend time with their families at the weekend: they are usually free all day on Saturday (they sing Evensong once a month, though other exciting events like concerts or special services can also take place on this day) and we programme completely free weekends from time to time, with no duties between Friday afternoon and Monday morning.    

Can my son participate in school sport, outings and activities?

Yes - allowing the boys to do this is very important to us. The choristers follow the full school timetable in the same way as other pupils at King's Ely, and participate fully in sport and most outside trips, and as many extra-curricular activities as time allows. On rare occasions when choir commitments conflict with a trip or activity, we make special arrangements for the choristers so that they miss out as little as possible.

Are there many extra commitments?

The boys take part in concerts in the Cathedral and elsewhere, CD recordings, TV and Radio broadcasts, and many other exciting opportunities. These are always planned and announced well in advance, and we ensure that regular commitments are reduced in proportion so that the boys perform well and avoid becoming tired.

Can you tell me more about how foreign tours work?

The boys have typically toured abroad every two years: the latest tour was to Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava in 2016, and the next one is to Estonia in 2018. There is no charge for these tours, which are regarded as professional engagements, but we are grateful to generations of parents who have co-ordinated fundraising events to enable the tours to happen.

What do the boys do at Christmas and Easter?

Christmas and Easter are major festivals in the church year and very special and exciting times for the choristers. They are required to sing until Christmas Day and Easter Day, and remain at Choir House for what are known as "stayovers" during the school holidays in the run-up to these festivals. Alongside musical commitments there is an extensive programme of trips and activities. Father Christmas always pays a visit on Christmas morning, meaning that choristers get to open two lots of presents! Despite being away from their families, the boys love these hard working but also relaxed times.

When will my son stop being a Chorister?

Boys remain choristers until they finish Year 8, the end of their time at King's Ely Junior. Of course, some boys' voices begin to change earlier than this, and so your son may have to stop singing with the choir if this is the case. He can continue to board until the end of Year 8 if he wishes. If a boy's voice changes in Year 8, the award remains at 50% until the end of his time in the Junior section.

If a boy's voice changes before Year 8, the award remains payable at 50% until the end of term in which it changes. Any further award applicable whilst the pupil remains in the Junior section is at the rate of 33%.

What are the financial arrangements for choristers?

We strive to ensure that no boy is prevented from taking up a choristership solely for financial reasons, and it is sometimes possible with means testing for us to approach full funding. Please contact us to find out more about bursaries.

Junior probationers in Year 3 receive an award of 20% of the school's day fees, meaning that the termly fee is £3,680. From Year 4 all choristers receive a 50% fee award. The current termly boarding fee for a chorister starting in Year 4 is £3,676, once this reduction is applied.

We hope that choristers will move up to King's Ely Senior when they are 13. They are eligible to receive an award of 33% of the day or boarding fee in Years 9 to 13 (age 13 - 18) subject to them maintaining a significant musical contribution and progressing well academically. Many also gain Music Awards, which entitle them to free instrumental tuition.

What about my son's schooling at 13?

One great advantage of choristerships at Ely is the possibility to remain at the same school in Year 9. Nearly all choristers choose to do this, and benefit both from a 33% fee reduction in Years 9 -13 and the excellent musical and academic opportunities offered by King's Ely Senior.

If your son is keen to keep singing after his voice has changed, he may be particularly interested in our Sixth Form Choral Scholarships at age 16, which allow boys to keep singing with the Cathedral Choir, learning from our professional adult singers. These Scholarships entitle the holder to an award of 50% of the full day or boarding fee.


Why does my son have to be a boarder?

Our choristers have busy lives, but their general education must be a priority. We believe that only with boarding is it possible to incorporate rehearsals, services and extra commitments into their schedule. It's often much easier for parents too, as boys don't have to travel to regular morning rehearsals or worry about the journey back after an evening concert. This helps to keep their energy levels high. Finally, it creates a strong sense of community which helps the choir sing better and enhances the boys' enjoyment of their work.

How will boarding work when my son starts in the choir?

We make sure that younger boys can settle in to boarding gradually. They go home every weekend, and there are opportunities to go home during the week as well. Every individual is different, and so we increase the commitment gradually as boys gain in age and experience, but in general, a boy who starts boarding in Year 4 would be following the full boarding schedule by his third term.

Can my son come home at weekends or on certain weeknights?

All the boys can usually choose to spend Friday and/or Saturday night at home if they wish. There are also opportunities to go home midweek, in consultation with the Housemistress.

Who are the Choir House staff?

Choir House has two full-time resident staff: Rebecca Woodward, the Housemistress (who lives in the house with her family), and Lucy Shute, the Matron. The extended family includes the Choir House Tutor, a post-graduate assistant who helps in the House and with theory tuition, and a team of teachers from King's Ely who act as tutors, helping the boys with their academic work. The Choir House pets (Oliver the cat and Bertie the dog) complete the team! All staff work together to ensure that the boys are happy and well cared-for.

Can you tell me about your Safeguarding procedures?

All staff who work with the boys at King's Ely and Ely Cathedral receive an Enhanced DBS check, and are subject to additional screening and recruitment procedures to ensure their suitability for work with children and young people. In addition, all receive regular training in Safeguarding. The boys have easy access to age-appropriate Safeguarding information in the House and the Cathedral, so that they know what to do if they are worried about anything, and what will happen next. You can read our full Safeguarding policies here and here.

What can the boys do in their free time at evenings and weekends?

The boys do all sorts of things in their free time. A non-exhaustive list includes: playing sport in Choir House garden, cricket on the school pitches, activities in the sports hall, swimming, gaming on consoles (with strict time limits!), building Lego models, reading, movie nights on Saturdays, go-karting and watching TV: they are big fans of the Great British Bake off!

Where will my son sleep and what time will he go to bed?

Younger boys sleep in a larger dormitory closest to Matron's room, while older boys move-up to smaller, bedroom-like accommodation. All dormitories are homely, and the boys can bring their own bedding, teddies, posters, casual clothes, and personal items with them. Bedtimes range from 8.20 for boys in Year 4 to 9.00 for boys in Year 8.

What happens about instrumental practice and homework?

The boys practise each of their musical instruments once a day, either before breakfast or after supper. They do their homework in the evening after supper, with supervision and help from teachers at King's Ely Junior. We monitor their workload carefully, and reduce the amount of homework at busy times. One of the great advantages of boarding is that homework and practice can be supervised by professional teachers and musicians, and the boys appreciate this assistance.

Is the food good?

The recent ISI inspection report described the food at King's Ely as excellent, and mentioned how the wide variety of choices is appreciated by the boarders. The boys eat all their meals in the 13th Century Monastic Barn, now converted into a modern dining hall and with brand new kitchens in 2015. A wide range of food is always on offer, with many healthy choices, and staff always monitor what the boys are eating to ensure a good and balanced diet. A particular highlight is Sunday brunch, with everything from specially selected sausages to pancakes!

How do you deal with homesickness?

Every boy is different and so we take a tailored approach based on the individual. We are sensitive and nurturing during the transition to boarding, and we ensure close and open communication with parents about their sons' progress and welfare.

Can I stay in touch with my son by phone or email?

Yes, and we encourage all the boys to communicate with their parents this way in the House (though older boys especially often need to be reminded!). Boys are allowed to have mobile phones, tablets or laptops at designated times and there is a payphone in the House which all of them can use.