Choristership FAQs

How does my son become a Chorister?

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 stage is to call or email Stephen Cleobury for an informal audition (01223 331 224; choir@kings.cam.ac.uk).

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 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 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 Probationer/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 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. This part of your morning will usually conclude with watching a BBC documentary on 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 the boy's parents 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 in the past the boys auditioning have 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 27 September 2014.

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 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 breaks 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 practice take place before the school day begins, and choral services in King’s Chapel are at the end of the day, meaning that no academic lessons are missed.

The boys follow the same programme of sport as other children, taking part in competitive matches which are arranged on non-Chapel days; although they do miss some of the Games lessons when they have Chapel commitments, they are still able to captain sides and play for top teams - the school staff are expert at recognising and rewarding talent even if Games time is occasionally limited.

Choristers are closely monitored and supported by the academic staff, who are well practised in guiding the Choristers through busy times, such as in the run up to Christmas.

A Choristership does not prevent an able boy from achieving the highest academic standards, and several Choristers in the recent past have achieved academic scholarships to their next school. The School’s most recent inspection report states that the School’s curricular provision is “broad, flexible and balanced”, rating it “outstanding”.

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 are £2,310 per term for the year 2013-14. 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.

Each boy is expected to learn the piano, which is part of the Choristership. However, there is the expectation that your son will learn at least one other instrument, which will usually be funded by his parents. There are additional charges which you can read more about here. There are additional funds available in case of need – please get in touch with the school if you’d like to know more.

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.

The number of concerts is regulated by the College’s Use of Choir Committee, which is designed solely to ensure that the amount of performing and travelling is kept to manageable levels. The School Headmaster, who is also the Master over the Choristers, is a member of this committee.

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.

Boarding

Does my son have to board?

All Choristers are required to board 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, weekend boarding is gradually introduced, so that by Year 6 they are ready for full boarding.

The Choristers live in the School’s Boarding House, which is home to around 30 - 35 boys at any one time, including all the Choristers, Probationers and some non-choristers who weekly board only. The boys are cared for by the House Master, her staff and the matrons. Read more about the Boarding House here.

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

We have five members of staff on duty each evening, including two gap students, two house tutors and either the Deputy House Master or the House Master. In addition, we have a body of Matrons, one of whom is always on duty overnight.

How often can I see my son?

We like to welcome parents into the Boarding House, although there are clearly times when it is easier for your son to settle without you. On a Sunday evening we encourage our younger boys to come straight to the House Master's flat, where there is hot chocolate and a short DVD on offer: this makes the initial separation much easier for all.

As it is important for our younger children to bond with their year group, we tend to prefer that you let him settle into the routine without you at first, although once this early period is over you can take your son out on a Wednesday afternoon after school until 45 minutes before bed time; in reality, the children often want to stay in!

Once your son starts singing in Chapel, you will want to go to some of the services; we welcome this, and are very happy for you to walk your son back to school. Some parents, but by no means all, come in at weekends to help with instrumental practice and prep, although in Year 8 it is often more in the child's interests if you do this occasionally more than regularly, so that your son is prepared for independent work and music practice at their senior school. The Choristers are also able to go out on a Wednesday afternoon from 3.20pm, missing part of Games if they are not in a match.

At the weekend, the Choristers are free to go out for an extended Saturday and/or Sunday lunch, or alternatively you can join your son for lunch in the Boarding House. On Sundays, the boys are also free to go out after Evensong until 45 minutes before bedtimes.

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 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 unsupervised, although the House is small enough for us always to be on hand to help. The House has a number of computers with internet access in order to facilitate this.

What activities are there in the evenings?

Once prep is over, we provide a full range of activities in House. There is always an outdoor activity, ranging from football, to touch rugby, Spotlight and Dodgeball for those boys who enjoy running around; for those who would rather be more sedate in the evening, we provide games such as Scrabble, Monopoly, Chess and Twister. 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, 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), popcorn or fizzy drinks 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 British Summer time.

Can my son have a mobile phone?

Mobile phones are encouraged among the older boys; while younger boys are not forbidden the use of mobiles, it is often easier for them to settle into the Boarding House if they use the House phone to contact parents. The School has full and clear guidelines and practices in place to ensure the safe use of mobile devices. The boys are allowed to use their mobile phones at appropriate times, and have access to the internet for prep. They are able to email and Skype, although this is supervised. Mobiles are collected in at bed time.

What happens at Christmas and Easter?

Once your son becomes a full Chorister, he is expected to sing at all the Christmas and Easter services. Whilst it might seem hard to be away from home at these family times, in fact the boys have a great deal of fun, and they look forward to these times second only to the tours.

Santa 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 most recent boarding inspection, dated 2011 and conducted by Ofsted, can be downloaded here. The most recent full Standard Inspection, dated 2010 and conducted by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, can be downloaded here. All school policies, and a full list of governors, can be found on the School website.

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