In Art & Culture/ People

Sweet singing in the choir

Christmas is a busy time for the Cathedral Choristers. Their voices are regularly heard during the festive season, with the Cathedral’s carol services drawing in audiences of over 6,000 people.

“Choir boys have been an integral part of the services at Winchester Cathedral for nearly a thousand years,” says Andrew Lumsden, organist and director of music at Winchester Cathedral.

“Today, they range in age from nine to 13. They mostly sing with our Lay Clerks, 12 men who are professional singers, but we also bring them together with our flourishing girls’ choir, too.”

Choristers are also part of a new tradition. Every year, just before the Christmas market opens, they are photographed skating on the ice rink in Inner Close wearing their red choir robes. It has become an iconic image of Winchester at Christmas. Alex Mani, one of the two head choristers, told me “This is one of our favourite parts of Christmas, even though we get our cassocks wet!”

The Cathedral has many carol services in the run-up to Christmas and the boys will be singing at most of them. This year, they will also be performing concerts in Dorchester Abbey, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and at the Royal Festival Hall.

You might imagine that they practise for ages in the run-up to the Cathedral’s busiest time of year. But in fact they only begin to prepare for Christmas at the end of November.

“The boys are so familiar with such a broad repertoire and sing so regularly that the demands of Christmas are easily managed,” says Andrew. “It all culminates on Christmas Day with three services and a massive Christmas lunch for all the boys and their families.”

Each Chorister (there are 22 in all drawn from across five school years at The Pilgrims’ School) also plays piano plus a brass or string instrument. Many benefit from music scholarships as they move on to senior schools.

Around this time of year the recruitment process for next year’s intake of Choristers gets underway. “A lot of people hear the choir and think, ‘my son or daughter couldn’t do that’. But we are not looking for a trained voice or experience,” says Andrew. “We look for potential, a good musical ear and a spark of character as it’s a busy life.”

“One of the Choristers sings the solo opening of Once in Royal David’s City at the start of the carol services in front of 2,000 people. Most adults would quake at performing in front of that number of people, but the boys just take it in their stride.”

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