St Catharine’s is delighted that six young choristers have joined our Girls’ Choir this year. Audrey, Beyza, Ellen, Gabriella, Olivia and Tallulah were officially inducted as choristers on St Catharine’s Day (25 November) when they received their surplices (the white robe which goes on top of the red cassock).
Founded in 2008, our Girls' Choir was the first college-based choir for girls in the UK, breaking with 900 years of tradition and setting a precedent that has been followed by several other institutions both in the UK and abroad. The choir provides a unique and invaluable musical experience for girls aged 8 to 15, which includes weekly rehearsals and services in the College chapel, complemented by singing and theory lessons.
The Girls’ Choir now comprises 20 choristers and 9 probationers, with auditions held each summer to recruit new voices. Most of the girls are from Cambridge, but some travel from further afield thanks to the support of their families and teachers. Olivia, who is a pupil at Edward Peake Church of England Middle School in Biggleswade, had no experience of choral singing before joining the Girls’ Choir and travels over from her home in Bassingbourn each week:
“During singing lessons at school, I was told that I might be good enough to audition for the Girls’ Choir, which was a bit of a surprise but I’m glad I went for it! My mum drives me over to the College each week and comes along to the services.”
The induction of new choristers fell neatly before a live BBC Radio 4 broadcast from the College Chapel marking the first Sunday of Advent, which featured beautiful performances from both the Girls’ Choir and students in the College Choir. The service is available to listen online via BBC Sounds until early January 2024. Beyza from Queen Edith Primary School commented:
“The radio broadcast was exciting! I had to wake up much earlier than normal and arrived at St Catharine’s when it was still dark, but it was really fun and I enjoyed the chance to sing at the same time as the College Choir.”
The next big performance for the Girls’ Choir will be at ‘Luminaria: A Ceremony of Light’ on 12 December. This special outdoor event is held in the Main Court of St Catharine’s and members of the public are invited to join the College community to experience the wonder and mystery of Christmas. Tallulah, who is a pupil at Coton Church of England Primary School, said:
“I am excited for the Christmas Luminaria performance and looking forward to singing in front of a big crowd in Main Court. Last year was freezing in the snow so I’m hoping it will be a little bit warmer this time!”
The new choristers’ passion for music is infectious and when speaking to them about their modern-day influences they reference artists such Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo. Twentieth-century artists also feature prominently, with Beyza preferring blues music and rock artists like Queen. When ABBA comes up in conversation, there are squeals of delight from the group.
It is a credit to the Girls’ Choir programme that the choristers are equally enthusiastic about choral music. New singers spend 1–2 years as probationers with the choir, which means they are already familiar the repertoire before their induction. On the topic of their best-loved pieces, the choristers were thrilled to reel off ‘Sperente in te’, ‘Ubi Caritas’ and ‘Lift Thine Eyes’. A particular favourite was Dyson’s ‘Magnificat’ and Audrey from Park Street Church of England Primary School recalled fondly that it was the first piece she sang on her first day with the Girls’ Choir.
In addition to singing as part of the Girls’ Choir, many of the choristers are instrumentalists. Gabriella from William Westley Church of England Primary School plays the piano, Beyza plays violin and piano, Tallulah plays the violin, piano and recorder, and Audrey explained that she plays “guitar, piano and ‘air violin’”. Ellen, who is a pupil at St Mary’s School in Cambridge, added:
“I currently play the piano, violin, trombone and recorder, but I have also tried my hand at guitar, cornet, French horn, flute, clarinet and drums.”
Dr Edward Wickham (2003), Director of Music at St Catharine’s, welcomed the new choristers by saying:
“It was a joy to induct our newest choristers as part of celebrations marking St Catharine’s Day and the College’s 550th anniversary. I hope the College community will enjoy hearing them sing in the Chapel each week and at special events throughout the year. We have a proud music tradition at St Catharine’s and the future looks bright for our Girls’ Choir!”