Detail of organ in University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford.
Copyright © Oxford University Images / John Cairns Photography

Organ awards

Organ scholars are talented organ students who develop their skills as performing musicians alongside their University studies. They are appointed by colleges to play the organ for chapel services and to direct or assist in the work of the choir.

In some colleges they are effectively the directors of chapel music; in others they act as assistants to a professional director of music.

The experience is without parallel for those wishing to engage in music-making at the highest level. It also offers invaluable training and experience for musicians with more modest aspirations.

The chapel music environment in Oxford is extremely lively, and offers scope not only for outstanding work in chapel contexts but also for external activities such as tours and recordings.

Organ award FAQs

How many colleges offer organ awards?

Twenty three colleges offer organ awards at Oxford through the University's organ awards scheme.

What music qualifications are required?

A candidate for any organ award ought to have reached a standard roughly equivalent to ABRSM Grade 8 in organ playing. Some candidates are advanced pianists without long experience as organists. Candidates for organ awards at the choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen and New College) should be beyond this and approaching the standard of a diploma.

What does an organ award involve?

The duties of organ scholars vary from college to college. They all involve playing the organ for services; and most involve working with the choir. Some modest level of administrative work is also required. In some colleges, the organ scholar may be expected to act as a general organiser of musical activities.

The monetary value of the award varies between colleges. In some colleges there are possibilities to augment this through involvement in additional services such as weddings and memorial services. Many colleges provide funding for organ lessons and/or conducting lessons. Noted teachers in both disciplines live and work in Oxford or regularly visit the city.

At Balliol, Corpus Christi, Exeter, Jesus College, Lincoln, Pembroke and Trinity, the organ scholar plays the organ for chapel services and recruits and directs the choir under the supervision of the college chaplain.

At Christ Church, Harris Manchester, Hertford, Keble, Lady Margaret Hall, Magdalen, Mansfield, Merton, New College, Oriel, Queen’s, Somerville, St Edmund Hall, St Peter’s, University College and Worcester, the organ scholar works with a professional director of music, principally playing the organ for services but assisting also in the running of the choir.

The level of activity varies considerably between colleges. The three choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen and New College) offer the busiest schedules, performing almost every day during term time and with significant additional activities of services, concerts and recordings beyond. At other colleges the organ scholar will be required to play from between one and four services per week during term.

Most colleges offer an organ award in two out of every three years. A few offer an award annually.
Do consult the director of music or chaplain of any college in which you are interested to obtain more detailed information or advice (see the links below). It is possible for you to visit colleges in advance of auditions, and the Choral and Organ Awards Open Day usually happens on a Saturday early in Trinity term (in late April or early May).

Which organ awards are available for entry in 2025 and 2026?

Organ scholarship availability for entry in 2025 and deferred entry in 2026 is shown below. 

Organ awards in 2025
Organ awards in 2026
Balliol YesYes 
Brasenose Yes Yes
Christ ChurchYes Yes
Corpus ChristiYesYes
Exeter NoYes 
Harris Manchester*TBCTBC
Jesus CollegeYesYes
KebleYes Yes
Lady Margaret HallYesNo
New CollegeNo Yes
Pembroke Yes (2 places)No 
The Queen's CollegeNoYes
St Edmund HallYesYes
St Peter'sYesNo
Trinity YesNo
University CollegeYesYes
Worcester YesYes

*Harris Manchester Organ Award recipients must be over 21 by the date their course starts. 

Please note that there are some restrictions on the courses available to organ scholars in some colleges. View details of course availability for organ scholars.

How to choose which organ award to apply for?

You need to consider what sort of experience of church music you want while you are at Oxford. Do you wish to take part in services most days during term or, at the other extreme, just once on Sundays? Do you want to be involved primarily in accompanying the choir and playing music before and after services, or in organising and directing the choir yourself? Do you want to be involved with a choir that has many additional commitments beyond regular services, such as concerts, recordings, tours and broadcasts? The answers to these questions will inform your choice of colleges. You are advised to consult the webpages of colleges and to contact their chaplains and/or directors of music to find out what individual organ awards will involve.

Organ scholars are required to be resident members of their colleges. So you should apply only for organ awards at colleges at which you would like to study.

Which subjects can be studied in conjunction with an organ award?

See our full list of the courses for which organ award applicants may apply at each college.

Are there any postgraduate opportunities for organ scholarships?

There are not currently any formally instituted organ awards for graduate students. In general the scheme is primarily designed for undergraduates, who will be students at Oxford for three or more years. Nevertheless, opportunities for graduate students do arise from time to time on an ad hoc basis. If you would be interested in seeing whether there might be such an opportunity during your intended period of study, contact the organ awards coordinator at the address given above.

How can I make an application?

You must complete and submit the form [available shortly] by noon on 1 September. You may apply for as many college places as you wish.

If a college is advertising both for direct entry and for deferred entry, you may apply for both, and there is no requirement for you to put these two places consecutively. You are advised to put down every college place for which you would be prepared to accept an offer. You will be asked to indicate your proposed subject of academic study.

As part of your application you should include a reference from a musician who knows the standard of your playing and can comment on your suitability for an organ award at Oxford. This would usually be your organ teacher, or another music teacher. The reference must not include any information about your academic work in any subject (including information about your proposed subject of study). This is because the musical and academic assessment of organ award applicants is, from 2024, completely separate; musical assessment takes place in September, and academic assessment in December (and may also include a pre-admissions test in November).

Organ award applicants may apply to both Oxford and Cambridge. The timetables of the auditions at the two universities are designed in order that this is possible. Should you choose to do this, you are advised not to apply to more than 10 college places at the first-choice university. Take advice over the completion of the application form, and take particular care in selecting the order of your college preferences. Please note that ‘joint’ applications are only possible before the UCAS deadline; following musical assessment in September you may only apply for either Oxford or Cambridge.

What are the interview and audition timetable and arrangements?

All applicants will be contacted within a few days of the receipt of applications at the beginning of September. If your application is judged suitably strong to proceed to the Musical Assessment Round, you will be invited to come to Oxford during the period 25-27 September 2024 for your organ audition. You will be advised of accommodation arrangements in advance – usually, your first-choice college will accommodate you for the whole period.

This sample timetable gives an idea of what the audition days will involve:

  • Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning: arrival in Oxford in time for a 30 minute practice on the organ for the audition at a specified time
  • Thursday and Friday: 15 minute organ playing audition, plus an aural test for all candidates held in a central location
  • Friday: you may be invited for a further informal audition in your first-choice college or at another college. College chaplains may also arrange to interview you during the audition period

All applicants will be free to leave Oxford by 3pm on Friday 27 September.

Applicants will be contacted within a week of the end of the Musical Assessment Round. Those who have been successful will be invited to make a UCAS application with the college that has selected them as first choice. Depending on successful performance in any pre-interview tests administered by their chosen subject, applicants will then be invited for full academic assessment in December, alongside other candidates for their subject.

In the September Musical Assessment Round, you may apply to both Oxford and Cambridge; assessments will be held separately at the two universities, but in the same week. In December you may take part in only one university’s admissions process. Joint candidates must thus (a) express a preference for one university over the other on their application forms; (b) abide by this preference once the September process is complete.

What does the audition involve?

The audition lasts approximately 15-20 minutes. In it you will play a prepared piece of your own choosing lasting between 5 and 7 minutes and attempt 4 tests: sight-reading, score-reading, transposition and harmonisation.

Auditions will take place on organs that have balanced swell pedals, standard pedalboards and aids to registration. Setting multiple combinations will not be possible, however; candidates should therefore select pieces without many registration changes. A page-turner will be provided, and he or she may be able to make one or two simple registration changes for you, provided that these can be explained within the few seconds immediately prior to performance. There will not be an opportunity to rehearse them.

The choice of music is not specified for the Oxford organ award process. Select music that displays your instrumental and musical capabilities to the full, without going beyond what your technique can support on an unfamiliar instrument in pressured circumstances. You will need to bring a spare copy of your prepared piece for use by the examiner. It is usually a good idea to bring a second prepared piece, in case you are invited to a second informal audition either in your first-choice college or at a lower-choice college.

Being an organ scholar involves a great deal more than just being able to play pieces on the organ. The keyboard tests are designed to explore the range and depth of your musicianship and are thus just as important in the evaluation as the prepared piece.

The tests are as follows:

  • Sight-reading: a short organ piece using pedals and set out on three staves. Change of manuals, use of the swell box and the addition or subtraction of a coupler may also be required. 
  • Score-reading: a four-voice vocal score (SATB) using modern G and F clefs, to be performed without use of the pedals.
  • Transposition: performance of a harmonised hymn tune up or down a tone or semitone (as requested) with pedals.
  • Harmonisation: performance of a hymn melody in a tonal harmonisation using pedals (if possible: see above). The melody will present possibilities for modulation to closely related keys.

Stops will be selected for you for each of the tests.

When will I be notified about the results?

Candidates will be notified by email of the results of the musical assessment process as soon as possible after the final selection meeting, which takes place after all auditions have taken place. If you have been successful, the email will advise you on how to proceed with your UCAS application to the University. The joint process of musical assessment means that some decisions (including some over Oxford-only candidates affected by decisions over joint candidates) will take more than a few days to be communicated. In any event, you will be contacted in good time to make the UCAS deadline in mid-October.

Please note that an offer of an organ award will be subject to you meeting the academic admissions requirements for your course, including any admissions tests.

How can I find out more about organ awards?

Details of the organ awards at the colleges that participate in the scheme can be found on the college websites:

Individual directors of music and/or chaplains will be happy to let you know more detail about the organ award and chapel music at their colleges.