Organ awards | University of Oxford
The pipes on an organ.
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 wish to develop their skills significantly during the period of 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; but it offers also 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 Scholarship FAQs

How many colleges offer organ scholarships?

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

What music qualifications are required?

As a rule of thumb a candidate for any organ scholarship ought to have reached a standard roughly equivalent to Grade 8 in organ playing. Candidates for organ scholarships at the choral foundations should be beyond this and approaching the standard of a diploma.

What does an organ scholarship 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 scholarships varies between colleges. In some colleges there are possibilities to augment this through involvement in additional services such as gaudies, 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, Hertford, 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, Keble, Lady Margaret Hall, Magdalen, Mansfield, Merton, New, Oriel, Queen’s, Somerville, St Edmund Hall, St Peter’s, University 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 scholarship bi-annually, so that a third-year organ scholar overlaps with a first-year organ scholar. A few offer a scholarship 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 the term before the auditions take place.

Which organ scholarships are available for entry in 2021 and 2022?

Organ scholarship availability for entry in 2021 and deferred entry in 2022 is shown below. 

 Application in 2020
 Organ awards in 2021Organ awards in 2022
Balliol  
Brasenose  
Christ Church
Corpus Christi  
Exeter  
Hertford 
Jesus College 
Keble 
Lady Margaret Hall
Lincoln 
Magdalen 
Merton  
New College  
Oriel
Pembroke 
The Queen's College  
St Edmund Hall
St Peter's 
Somerville 
Trinity   
University College 
Worcester 

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

How to choose which organ scholarship 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, CD recordings, tours and broadcasts? Your answers to these questions will affect the colleges for which it is suitable for you to apply. You are advised to consult the webpages of colleges individually and to contact their chaplains and/or directors of music to find out what the organ scholarships will involve.

You should note that organ scholars are required to be resident members of their colleges. So your selection of the organ scholarship to apply for is a decision as to which college you would like to study at.

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

Find a full list of the courses for which organ scholarship applicants may apply at each college.

Are there any postgraduate opportunities for organ scholarships?

There are not currently any formally instituted organ scholarships 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 this form 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.

Organ scholarship 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. 

As part of your application you should include a personal statement, which will probably be the same as for your UCAS application in October. If you are unable to submit the final version of your UCAS personal statement at the time of the organ scholarship application, you may submit a working draft, but you should clearly indicate that this is the case and forward the finished version to your first-choice college as soon as possible, and certainly before the auditions themselves.

Your application will need to be supported by an academic reference from your school or college and by a musical reference from your organ teacher or other suitable person. Your referees must send their references directly to the admissions office of your first-choice college by 1 September.

As well as the practical tests, candidates in most subjects will be examined academically at the time of the September organ award auditions. If your application is judged strong enough to be considered, you will be invited to submit representative examples of your written work (if this is required for your course) shortly after the 1 September deadline. You are recommended to have this work ready in advance so that you can send it off quickly once it is requested. Consult the admissions advice issued for your subject regarding the requirements for submitted work. All candidates will be required to complete a UCAS application once the outcome of the auditions has been announced.

You are advised to make sure that your school or college is well aware that you are applying for an award before the end of the summer term so that they will be able to supply references in good time.

The deadline for submission of applications is noon on 1 September and late applications will not be accepted. The order of your college preferences may not be changed after the deadline and you cannot change the subject you are applying for after this time.

What are the interview and audition timetable and arrangements?

Because of the COVID-19 situation, the auditions and interviews for organ awards will be conducted online in 2020. 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 interviews and auditions, you will be asked to submit video recording of your playing. Depending on the subject for which you have applied, you may also be asked to send examples of your written work at this stage.

Online keyboard tests (for all candidates) and academic interviews (for all candidates except those in the subjects listed below) will be held on 24-25 September. Please note the timetable for academic interviews in subjects other than Music is subject to change at this stage.

There are two elements of musical assessment for all candidates:

  1. You will submit video recordings of a prepared piece and one verse of a hymn of your choice by 17 September 2020. You may also submit a second, contrasting piece.
  2. There will be keyboard tests, conducted online, on 24 or 25 September 2020. If you do not have access to an organ on those days, you may take the tests at the piano or other suitable keyboard instrument.

Organ scholarship candidates for most subjects are given full academic assessment in September. You should expect to face the same tests and interviews as candidates in the December admissions process and to be assessed as rigorously.

Candidates applying to Archaeology and Anthropology, Computer Science, Computer Science and Philosophy, Engineering, Experimental Psychology, Fine Art, Law, Medicine, Modern Languages, Physics, Physics and Philosophy, Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics and Oriental Studies are interviewed in December.

Candidates (with the exception of those in the subjects listed above) will have at least two academic interviews on September 24-25. These will be conducted online, and as usual will ordinarily be with representatives of the first-choice college and the subject faculty or department.

What does the audition involve?

Because of the COVID-19 situation, the auditions for organ awards will be conducted online in 2020.

There are two elements of musical assessment:

  1. You will submit video recordings of a prepared piece and one verse of a hymn of your choice by 17 September 2020.
  2. There will be keyboard tests, conducted online, on 24 or 25 September 2020. If you do not have access to an organ on those days, you may take the tests at the piano or other suitable keyboard instrument.

Your prepared piece may be by any composer, and should be 5 to 7 minutes in length. Select music that displays your instrumental and musical capabilities to the full, without going beyond what your technique can support. Sample recordings will be posted online in due course, showing adequate and inadequate sound quality. Please note that a recording on a smartphone is perfectly acceptable.

Submit a performance of one verse of a hymn of your choice, recorded as if for congregational singing. Begin with one or two phrases as a play-over to indicate the tempo for the verse following

Under normal circumstances, candidates are offered the opportunity to present a second pieces at an informal audition. You may, therefore, submit a recording of a second piece. Candidates who take this option should ensure that the combined duration of their two pieces (not including the hymn) is no longer than 12 minutes. If you opt to submit a second piece, choose something that contrasts with and complements the first: for example, an 18th-century piece with no registration changes would be complemented by a 19th,20th or 21st-century piece that changes registration and uses the swell box.

  • Please note that a second piece is not obligatory. Your application will be in no way prejudiced if you choose not to submit one.
  • On the application form, there is a space to inform us if you anticipate technical difficulties with participating in this year’s auditions, e.g. because you lack access to a smartphone for making a video recording of your audition piece, and/or because you do not have access to the internet in order to participate in an online audition or interview.
  • Please let us know also if the lockdown significantly affected your preparation for the audition.

For some guidance on how to record your piece(s), please see our filming advice. Details on how to submit recordings will be sent to applicants shortly after the application deadline.

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.

This year the test will be conducted ‘live’ online. You will be given 60 seconds to peruse each test. You may be asked to repeat part or all of a test or tests.

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. For those unable to access an organ at the time of the auditions, an alternative piece, without pedals, will be provided.
  • Score-reading: a four-voice vocal score (SATB) using 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. Candidates taking the tests on an instrument without pedals should play all parts with the hands only.
  • 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.

A registration guide will be provided for each of the tests. The keyboard tests from the 2019 auditions may be accessed here.

Because of the COVID-19 situation, this year the assessment of organ scholars will not include a choir rehearsal.

When will I be notified about the results?

In some cases, the initial offer of an organ scholarship may be made quite quickly after the final selection meeting, by phone or by email. In other cases the notification may be made only after a few days. A letter will also be sent confirming the offer and any conditions attached to it as well as instructing you how to proceed with your UCAS application to the University. In any event, you will be contacted in good time to make the UCAS deadline of 15 October.

Please note that an offer of an organ award will usually be subject to A-level (or equivalent) conditions or other academic requirements. Where there is a standard written test for a given subject, an offer of an organ scholarship will normally be conditional upon satisfactory performance in that test.

How can I find out more about organ scholarships?

To get a taste of what it would be like to be a choral or organ scholar at Oxford, you can attend our Choral and Organ Awards Open Day.

Details of the organ scholarships at the colleges that participate in the scheme can be found here:

Balliol, Christ Church, Corpus Christi, ExeterHertford, Jesus College, Keble, Lady Margaret Hall, Lincoln, Magdalen, MansfieldMerton, New College, Oriel, Pembroke, Queen’s, St Edmund Hall, St Peter’s, Somerville, Trinity, University College and Worcester.

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