One of the most famous choirs of men and boys in the world is the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Many music lovers will know of them due to their annual broadcast of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. In the 20th century the choir boasted such famous directors as Aurther Mann, Boris Ord (of Adam lay ybounden fame) and Sir David Willcocks (who doesn’t love his descant for O Come, All Ye Faithful?). Currently Stephen Cleobury, formerly of Westminster Cathedral, directs the choir, which is composed of 16 choristers (ages 9-13) and 14 undergraduate choral scholars from the university. The choral scholars do not necessarily “read” (this is the British term for “to major in” or “to study”) music at the university, but rather come from a variety of disciplines. Regarding the choral scholars, I would like to make the following point.
The use of choral scholars is a wonderful option for cathedrals or churches that struggle to find (or finance) professional male singers to sing countertenor, tenor and bass. One could easily do the same with men from the local university or college, or one could even mix high school men along with college age men and adult men from the church. It will be a different sound, but no less valid.
Again, I want to point out that the choir school admits both boys and girls and provides an education for 350 students in addition to the choristers. The choristers’ duties take place primarily outside of school. If you are the music director of a parish with a school… Need I say more! Also, such famous musicians as Christopher Tye and Orlando Gibbons went through the choir school.
Lastly, King’s college provides vocal instruction both for the boys and for the choral scholars. This is something that many of the great choir schools have begun doing in the last few decades and I agree strongly with the practice (and highly recommend it if possible). It is almost impossible to take care of each vocal issue within the context of the choir rehearsal, but a weekly voice lesson provides ample care so that each chorister learns to use his voice to the best of his abilities and with as little tension as possible.
There are so many fine recordings of King’s College that it is difficult to decide on one, so I present three. The first is a televised recording of lessons and carols from 1954 with Boris Ord conducting. The second is a recording of Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus, and the final, well… speaks for itself. Enjoy!