The mixed Chapel Choir is formed of twenty-four singers – usually seven sopranos, six altos/countertenors, four tenors and seven basses/baritones – and two organ scholars, advised by Ralph Allwood, who is a Fellow Commoner of the College, and assists music in the Chapel. The choir is run by the organ scholars in conjunction with Ralph Allwood and the Chaplain, with a Choir Administrator.
The Chapel Choir combines high quality music-making, ambitious and wide-ranging repertoire and commitment to detail with a friendly atmosphere and vibrant social life. The Choir sings two or three choral services each week during term, in addition to a busy schedule of additional events, such as Eucharist on Feast Days, Catholic Masses, Commemorations of Benefactors, wedding and memorial services, and a busy schedule of concerts and tours.
Concerts range from recitals in Cambridge, such as being one of the four choirs (along with King’s, St John’s and Trinity) to sing as part of the weekend visit of the Stanford and Howells Societies, to concerts in London, such as Mozart’s Requiem at St. Martin-in-the-Fields with the Brandenburg Sinfonia. Cathedral tours have included Canterbury Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Southwell Minster and Truro Cathedral, and tours abroad have included Hong Kong, New York, France, Sicily, Germany and Hungary in recent years.
The Choir has an ever-growing discography, with widespread critical acclaim for recent recordings Flight of Song, Songs of Heaven and Earth and For the Wings of a Dove, directed by Dr Silas Wollston.
Choral Scholars are appointed by the College for three years, through the Inter-Collegiate Choral Awards Competition, and are expected to give full commitment to the Choir during the duration of the scholarship. There is an annual stipend of £100, and all members of the choir receive fortnightly singing lessons, with occasional other College funds to subsidise further tuition. All members of the choir receive a free three-course meal after Chapel after every Wednesday and Sunday service, with additional subsidised meals and social events throughout the year.
The three-manual Binns organ, built in 1892, is without doubt one of the finest instruments in all of Cambridge, and is unique for remaining tonally unaltered since it was built. It is a beautifully voiced and hugely versatile instrument for accompanying the liturgy, as well as a very striking recital instrument, with a termly series of organ recitals consisting not only of organists from around Cambridge, but also attracting professional and concert organists from around the UK and abroad. The instrument was completely restored in 2002 by Harrison & Harrison, and is in very good condition. The large Victorian chapel has a spacious acoustic, making it a particularly rewarding space in which to perform.
Former organ scholars include Charles Villiers Stanford (1870–72) and Richard Hickox (1967–70).
Two organ scholars work with Ralph Allwood and the Chaplain to organise and deliver all the music in Chapel. Beyond playing the organ and often conducting services, the organ scholars oversee the administration of the choir (with the Choir Administrator), including the selection of music, and the planning of concerts, tours and other events.
The organ scholars enjoy the same privileges as members of the choir, including a free three-course meal after Chapel services and free singing lessons. In addition, the organ scholars receive an annual stipend of £450, and a further £500 each year towards organ lessons, conducting lessons and the purchasing of scores. Ralph Allwood coaches the organ scholars in choral direction.
The organ scholars are provided with special rooms in college, with university network phones, internet and pianos. The Senior Organ Scholar occupies some of the finest accommodation in the College, with a set of seventeenth-century rooms adjacent to the Chapel.
The organ scholars are central to the music-making in the college, and often conduct the MagSoc Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.