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.

Please note that the 2020 audition process is subject to change due to the dynamic nature of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

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 Brasenose, 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
Christ Church
Corpus Christi  
Jesus College 
Lady Margaret Hall
New College  
The Queen's College  
St Edmund Hall
St Peter's 
University College 

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?

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 23 to 25 September 2020. Your first-choice college will accommodate you throughout the time you are in Oxford and will be in touch with you concerning these arrangements.

Candidates will be required to arrive as soon as possible after release by Cambridge Wednesday 23 September (or by 1 pm if not coming from Cambridge) and must be prepared to stay until the end of Friday 25th September. During this time you will be assigned a 30 minute organ practice slot on the organ that will be used for your audition. The auditions will take place on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th September. Candidates (with the exception of those in the subjects listed below) will have at least two academic interviews on these days, normally at the first-choice college and the subject faculty or department.

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 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.

What will the audition cover?

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 ABRSM 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.

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, 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.