Organ awards | University of Oxford
Organ awards
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. 

23 colleges offer organ scholarships at Oxford through the University’s organ awards scheme.  

What an organ scholarship involves
Which organ scholarships are available for entry in 2017 and 2018
How to choose which organ scholarship to apply for
Which subjects can be studied in conjunction with an organ scholarship
Postgraduate opportunities for organ scholarships
How to make an application
Interview and audition timetable and arrangements
What the audition will comprise
Notification of results
How to find out more about organ scholarships

What an organ scholarship involves

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 Brasenose, Christ Church, 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 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.

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.

Which organ scholarships are available for entry in 2017 and 2018

 Application in 2016
 Organ awards in 2017Organ awards in 2018
Balliol 
Brasenose 
Christ Church  
Corpus Christi 
Exeter 
Hertford  
Jesus College 
Keble
Lady Margaret Hall • 
Lincoln
Magdalen  
Mansfield 
Merton  
New College 
Oriel 
Pembroke
The Queen's College
St Edmund Hall 
St Peter's  
Somerville
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

In principle, organ scholars can read for any course offered in the University. In practice, not every college is able to offer every subject to organ scholarship applicants. Find a full list of the subjects for which organ scholarship applicants may apply at each college.

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 to make an application

You must complete and submit the online application form by 1 September. You may apply for as many college places as you wish. If a college is advertising both for entry in 2017 and for deferred entry in 2018, 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. Please note that applicants for Medicine may not apply jointly to Oxford and Cambridge. Joint applicants for Engineering or Law may not put Oxford as first choice.

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 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.

Interview and audition timetable and arrangements

All applicants will be contacted within a few days of the receipt of the applications at the beginning of September. If your application is judged suitably strong to proceed to interviews and auditions, you will be contacted first of all to send some examples of your written work. You will then be invited to come to Oxford during the period Wednesday 21 to Friday 23 September 2016. If you are not also applying to Cambridge, you will have to be in Oxford by 10am on the 21st and may need to arrive the previous evening if you are travelling some distance. Candidates also applying to Cambridge will travel across to Oxford during the 21st to arrive by 2pm. Your first-choice college will accommodate you throughout the time you are in Oxford and will be in touch with you concerning these arrangements.

The timetable during your stay will involve:
Wednesday and/or Thursday: at least two academic interviews, normally at the first-choice college and the subject department
Wednesday afternoon: 30-minute practice on the organ for the audition at a specified time
Thursday morning: 15-minute audition
Thursday 4pm: general meeting in the Faculty of Music giving details of any further interviews or auditions; candidates not needed for these will be free to leave at this point, if it is convenient for them to do so
Friday morning: conducting auditions as required; further interviews if needed; all remaining candidates will be free to leave Oxford by 3pm

You may also 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.

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 for Engineering, Law and Medicine are interviewed in December and will not receive academic assessment in September.

Forecast dates for future auditions are as follows:
2017: 18-20 September
2018: 19-21 September
2019: 23-25 September

What the audition will comprise

The audition lasts approximately 15 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.

The ORGAN used will depend on the first-choice college that you have applied to, though it will not be the instrument at that college. You will have 30 minutes preparation time on the organ during the afternoon preceding the audition. You should expect to encounter an instrument of roughly 20 stops arranged over two manuals (CC-g3, 56 notes) and pedals (CC-f1, 30 notes) with a swell box but no registration aids.

In choosing your PREPARED PIECE, have in mind what will be possible on the given organ. 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.

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 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.

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 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. The melody will present possibilities for modulation to closely related keys.

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

The tests are set at two levels: Standard (roughly equivalent to Grade 8) and Advanced (roughly equivalent to Diploma). Which set is used depends on your first-choice college. Most colleges use the standard set; but colleges requiring an especially high level of accomplishment (such as the choral foundations) may use the advanced set. A past paper of the test can be downloaded here:

Some candidates will be asked to conduct a short (7-10 minute) CHOIR PRACTICE with boys and/or a consort of mixed voices (SATB) as appropriate. A short unaccompanied anthem or complete section of a longer work will be given, and you will have the opportunity to look through this prior to the test. A piano will be supplied in the practice room for giving notes.

Notification of 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 to find out more about organ scholarships

The University Organ Scholarship open day is held in April each year. The day gives you the opportunity to learn more about organ scholarships at Oxford and the application process, and to practise some of the skills tested during the auditions. There will also be the possibility of singing with or observing Evensong in a college chapel.

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

Balliol, Brasenose, 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.