Choristership FAQs

Auditioning

At what age should my son apply to King’s?

Most boys will be between the ages of six and nine at the time of their audition, ideally in Year 2 or 3.

How do I know if my son is the right standard for King's Choir?

If you know that your son is interested in becoming a Chorister, and you feel that this is a lifestyle that you are happy to commit to and support as a family, the first step is to call or email the Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury, for an informal meeting (01223 331 224; choir@kings.cam.ac.uk). Only by coming to an audition at King's will you know if your son will be suited to becoming a chorister. It is also important to know that we are not looking for a trained singer: this is why becoming a Chorister at King's involves its own training!

If Stephen feels that your son should progress to the next stage, you will be put in touch with King's College School in order to look around the School and the Boarding House, and to meet some of the staff, including the House Master, Mrs Jill Etheridge, and the School’s Director of Music.

Assuming that you are still interested, you can then apply for your son to come to one of two annual audition days, where he will sing to a few people, including Stephen Cleobury, play his musical instrument/s and do some academic tests in English and Maths. You will hear within a few days whether your son has been successful.

How do I find out if King's is right for my son?

We believe that being a Chorister at King's provides an unbeatable start to life, with the benefits of skills that last a lifetime. You'll probably have lots of questions about being a Chorister though, and we realise that not all of your questions will be answered here.

For this reason we highly recommend that the first step you take is to contact the Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury, to arrange an informal meeting. Stephen is delighted to see parents at point in the year, and it's a useful occasion for you to ask the questions you'll have about being a Chorister, and to find out whether it is a lifestyle to which you, your son and your family will be able to fully commit. If your son then comes to an audition day, there will be the opportunity to talk with current Chorister parents and to look around the School and Boarding House, if you haven't already.

How should I start the process?

To start with, we would love to hear from you if you are considering a choristership at King’s for your son, or even if you just have some questions: contact the Choir Office here (01223 331 224; choir@kings.cam.ac.uk).

Then, if you and your son are still keen, you can come to King’s College and meet informally with the Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury. This can be a useful and, importantly, a relaxed opportunity for your son to sing to Stephen, and for you to ask questions about being a Chorister at King’s.

If then you still wish to put your son forward, he can attend one of the audition days held a couple of times each year.

What happens at the audition day?

The day begins at around 10am with an informal gathering of all the parents and boys who are taking part in the audition day. There are plenty of people who you can talk to over coffee, including some current Chorister parents, so that you can learn more about the life of a Chorister. The Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury, usually gives a short talk before the auditions start, and then your son will leave with a member of the Boarding House Staff to begin the more formal part of the day. Meanwhile, the Boarding Housemaster, Mrs Jill Etheridge, and Senior Matron will take you on a tour of the Boarding House, enabling you to ask any questions about the boarding side of being a Chorister.
 
During your son's audition, which lasts approximately 8 - 10 minutes, he will first be asked to sing a short and simple prepared song to a small group of people, usually including Ms Lyn Alcantara (the Choristers' Singing Coach), Nick Robinson (the Headmaster), the organ scholars and Stephen Cleobury. It's ideal if you can provide two copies of the music. Stephen will also ask him to do some aural tests such as clapping back a rhythm, picking notes out of a simple chord and singing back a melody played on the piano. If your son plays a musical instrument (by no means a necessity), he will be asked to play a short piece to the School's Director of Music, Mr Michael Stevenson. He will also meet Mr Colin Dely (the School's Head of the Junior School) who will ask him to do a few academic tests. In between times, he will be able to play games with the other boys taking part, overseen by one of the Boarding House staff. The morning is busy, but the boys auditioning often come away feeling very positive about their experience.
 
Once the formal auditions are concluded, your son will join you again, and the morning will end with a short concert, given by the current Choristers. You will then be free to go. The auditions are usually over by around 1pm, and the Headmaster will be in touch with you within a few days.

When are the auditions?

We usually hold two auditions a year: in January and September. Please get in touch with us at for more information. The next auditions will be on Saturday 26 September 2015. Stephen Cleobury is always happy to meet informally at any time in the year with parents considering a choristership for their son: get in touch with Stephen on 01223 331 224 or by email at choir@kings.cam.ac.uk.

What sort of music should my child prepare?

A simple song, even a hymn, will be suitable – just something that your son enjoys singing. It may be sacred or secular. We ask that you bring two copies of the music so that the Director of Music can accompany on the piano.

How long will the audition last?

Around 8-10 minutes.

What are you looking for in a chorister?

An enthusiasm for music and, in particular, singing! Your son will start off as a probationer for two years, during which time he will learn many of the skills he will need to become a fully-fledged chorister. Some of the most important aspects we look for in addition to enthusiasm are reasonable concentration, and supportive family.

Being a Chorister

What does the training entail?

Before becoming a King's Chorister, your son will usually undergo a two year probationary period. Most boys start as a Probationer in Year 4, when they are given training to enable them to start performing with the Choir at some point in Year 5. Your son will become a full Chorister at an induction ceremony early in Year 6, at which point he will receive his top hat – a proud moment for both you and your son!

What is the earliest my child can become a Chorister?

Before becoming a King's Chorister, your son will usually undergo a two year probationary period. Most boys start as a Probationer in Year 4, when they are given training to enable them to start performing with the Choir at some point in Year 5. Your son will become a full Chorister at an induction ceremony early in Year 6, at which point he will receive his top hat - a proud moment for both you and your son!

When will his Choristership end?

At the end of Year 8, when he is thirteen; this coincides with him leaving King’s College School and moving to secondary school. If his voice changes before the end of Year 8, he may have to stop singing with the Choir. In this eventuality he will continue to be supported within the School, although he will probably choose to board weekly rather than stay at the School at weekends. 

How does the work of a Chorister fit in with the usual school day?

All King’s Choristers follow a normal school programme alongside the other students at King’s College School. Instrumental and Chorister practices take place before the school day begins, and choral services in King’s Chapel are at the end of the day, minimising the impact on a normal school day.

Can you explain how the financial arrangements for being a Chorister work?

King’s College pays around two-thirds of the school fees, which means that the Chorister full boarding fees were £2,390 per term for the year 2014-15. King's makes every effort to ensure that choristerships are open to any boy of the right musical ability: please contact the School if you have questions regarding financial support. All tours are fully funded by the College, with the exception of pocket-money.

What happens about concerts and touring?

In addition to regular services at King's College Chapel during the three 8-week University terms, the Choir performs in a number of concerts every year. These take place nationally and internationally and present an exciting opportunity for your son to travel around the world, learning about and experiencing different countries and cultures. Read a recent tour blog from the Choir's visit to the USA in 2015.

How often do the Choristers perform?

The Choristers have choir practice at School on every weekday and Saturday morning, but they perform in Chapel as part of the Choir on five days of the week. This takes the form of regular evening choral services that take place in the Chapel - these run during the three eight-week University terms, with two additional weeks during July. The Choristers also take part in a number of concerts, recordings and other events during the year, including at Easter and Christmas.

Boarding

When will my son start boarding?

From Year 6, all Choristers are required to board full time at King's College School due to their Choir commitments. In Year 4, the Probationers board weekly, going home at the end of the school day on Friday, and coming back to School on Sunday evening so that they are ready for the next morning. In Year 5 your son will start boarding over the weekend, although how often and when this happens will depend on the needs of the Choir.

Who will be looking after my son in the Boarding House?

The Boarding House at King’s College School is run by the Housemaster, Mrs Jill Etheridge. Jill has accumulated a great deal of pastoral experience over her ten years at King’s College School, both as a Head of Year and as Head of Classics. She has four children, three of whom have been choristers at King’s. 2015-16 will be her third year running the Boarding House. Jill runs the Boarding House as if it were her own extended family, providing what is a second home for the 32 boys that live there.

Jill is supported by her deputy, Miss Cecilia Greenlaw, who is also a Head of Year at King’s, and teaches English and History. In addition, there is a team of three residential members of staff Ed, Mike and Tim, and three non-residential staff, Ben, Laura and Lia.

The Boarding House also has three matrons, led by Mrs Katrina Nuttall, two of whom are qualified nurses. There is always a matron on duty overnight.

Are parents welcome in the Boarding House?

There are lots of opportunities for you to see your son, both in the Boarding House and in their free time. In addition, all boys are welcome to go out with parents on a Wednesday afternoon after School. There are other opportunities for those boarding over the weekend – see below. When they return on a Sunday evening, we encourage our younger boys to come straight to the Housemaster's flat, where there is hot chocolate and a short DVD on offer: this makes the initial separation much easier for all.

You can also always contact your son by phone and Skype – we have several house phones and Skype on our House computers!

What is the food like?

King's College School prides itself on the excellence of its food - everything is cooked on the premises, and is supplied by the best local suppliers. The kitchen has been awarded 5 stars for its excellent food hygiene. The children get to know the kitchen staff very well, and evening and weekend meals have a lovely feel to them. Notices are given after supper. We encourage good table manners, and the children take it in turns to take part in duties such as wiping down tables so that they learn that the elves don't do everything for them!

How is prep (homework) managed?

There are two prep sessions - one with the younger boys and one with the older boys. Prep is always supervised, and the boys are encouraged to ask for help with their work if need be. They can leave prep to join in with the evening activities once their prep diary has been signed.

Should a boy wish to do academic work outside the allocated prep time, for example as he approaches academic scholarship exams, he is able to work in the House Study, and there are always staff on-hand to help. 

What activities are there in the evenings?

Once prep is over, there is a full range of activities for the boys. There is always an outdoor activity, ranging from football, to touch rugby, swimming and dodgeball; for those who would rather be more sedate in the evening, we provide games such as chess, pool, table-football and lego. All activities are supervised by House staff, who often enjoy them as much as the children!

What are the sleeping arrangements in the Boarding House?

Boarders sleep in dormitory accommodation, usually arranged by Year-group. Each boy has his own personal bed area, including wardrobe space, a bedside cupboard and an under-bed drawer. In addition, they each have a pin board over or near to their bed on which they can attach posters or cards and letters. We try to make the dormitories as comfortable as possible, so that the children feel at home. There are no more than eight beds to a dormitory.

What happens at the weekend?

The weekend schedule is busy, but we make the most of the free time which the boys have - they either go out with parents or friends, or we give the boys free time to relax in House. The Year 8 boys have the privilege of being able to walk into town, something which they very much enjoy. Saturday night is movie night, when we watch age-appropriate films either in the Senior Common Room or in the House Master's flat, where the House dog (Noggin) and popcorn or tuck often await them. Sunday morning includes a dog walk for early risers.

What are the bed times?

The boys go up to their dormitories 45 to 30 minutes before bedtime, depending upon whether it is a bath or shower night. They have 15 minutes quiet time, in which we read to the younger children; the older children are encouraged to read their own books, although even our Year 8 boys enjoy being read to at times! Bedtimes in the winter are:
Year 4: 8.15 pm
Year 5: 8.30 pm
Year 6: 8.45 pm
Year 7: 9.00 pm
Year 8: 9.15 pm
These times are 15 minutes later in the summer months.

What happens at Christmas and Easter?

Once your son completes his training, he is expected to sing at all the Christmas and Easter services. While it might seem hard to be away from home at these family times, in fact the boys have a great deal of fun. When they’re not singing, there is a programme of special trips and activities, including going to the pantomime, laser-quest and the cinema; they look forward to these times second only to the tours!

Father Christmas pays a visit to the House, and the boys enjoy setting traps for him after a Christmas party and dinner on Christmas Eve with family following the live broadcast of Nine Lessons and Carols.

There is also a rumour that a pillow fight takes place early on Christmas Day morning, although the staff know nothing about this! The children are free to go home after the Christmas Day Service in Chapel, which finishes at around midday.

Easter is similar, although this time the Easter Bunny comes to visit the House in an Easter Egg Hunt, following another family lunch. We are always mindful of the family significance of these days, and try to be as inclusive as possible, but we ask you to respect the fact that these are also times when the boys' professionalism is called upon more than ever.

Where can I find the latest inspection reports?

The School's most recent full integrated inspection was in November 2014, which rated the School excellent in all areas. This and older inspection reports can be downloaded here. All School policies, and a full list of governors, can be found on the School website.

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