The Choir of St John’s to welcome girls and women!

Girl choristers and women are to be admitted into The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge from September 2022. The decision means the choir will be unique in an Oxbridge college when it combines the voices of males and females in both adults and children.

Photo: B Ealovega

Founded in the 1670s, The Choir of St John’s is made up of around 20 choristers, who join from the age of eight, and about 16 adult choral scholars who are largely students at St John’s College, one of the 31 constituent Colleges of the University of Cambridge. The choir enhances services of the College Chapel through daily Evensong services and Sung Eucharist on Sundays during university term.

In future, men and women will be largely recruited to the choir from the student body of the College. Choristers typically join in Year 4 of school and sing until the end of Year 8. Boy and girl choristers admitted into the choir will be educated at St John’s College School.

The choristers come to Cambridge from a wide variety of backgrounds and generous scholarships are provided to support their education – the aim is that no child is prevented from joining the choir on financial grounds. In addition to a superb musical training they receive an excellent education at one of the country’s most successful schools.

Andrew Nethsingha, former organ scholar at St John’s, has directed the choir for 14 years and its repertoire spans 500 years of sacred music. He has a reputation for encouraging young singers, championing contemporary music, and commissioning new work from established and emerging composers.

Andrew says: “Providing an opportunity for girls and women to sing as members of The Choir of St John’s is a very exciting development for the choral tradition of the College. Choral singing is a specialised art form, and our choir has played a formative role in the careers of many globally recognised musicians.

“Extending membership to talented female singers will create an exceptional new musical opportunity for women and girls, as our much- loved choir continues to make a highly valued contribution to the musical life of St John’s and the wider world.

Musical training & many more attributes

“Each singer is an individual with their own vocal colour, their own personality and their own strengths and weaknesses – we nurture each singer’s voice. It will be four or five years before all five year-groups of the choir contain both boys and girls. The total number of choristers will increase from 20 to 25.

“Boys’ voices tend to reach their peak around Year 8, whereas girls’ voices continue to develop for many years after that. Our choir will continue to celebrate and give a platform to those unique moments in boys’ vocal development whilst ensuring girls and women are also given the chance to benefit from a musical education that will transform the rest of their lives.

“In addition to their musical training, the choristers learn innumerable skills including teamwork, attention to detail, self-confidence, leadership, professionalism and responsibility. These attributes stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“I hope this small step will bring the day closer when there is gender equality amongst composers, organists and conductors, as well as among politicians, business leaders and in all other walks of life.”