Organ scholar at a college without a director of music
As junior organ scholar in a college without a director of music, the senior organ scholar and I can ‘run the show’ ourselves – planning the music list for each term; playing and/or conducting for every service; arranging singing lessons and master classes; and organising annual choir tours abroad (this year to Hong Kong and Shanghai). During your three years here, you gain considerable experience in both accompanying and conducting the choir. We gain a huge amount of support and advice from our chaplain (who was once a choral scholar herself), with weekly meetings, which usually turn into general chats, always sustained by coffee and biscuits.
In addition to the weekly Evensongs, there are further services for feast days and special events - highlights of which include the annual Patron’s Day Evensong. The organ scholars are encouraged to play an important role within the musical life of the wider college community, organising chamber music events and choral concerts - this term we will be giving a performance of Fauré’s Requiem.
The organ scholarship at my college strikes a happy balance, allowing you to be fully immersed in chapel life, while also leaving you time for interests beyond your academic work and responsibilities as organ scholar – I enjoy playing the French horn in Oxford University Philharmonia Orchestra and Oxford University Wind Orchestra (for which I am also librarian), as well as playing the horn for other college events across the University, and participating in Turl Street Homeless Action and the college lacrosse team.
Organ scholar at a college with a director of music
At a college with a Director of Music, it is the job of the organ scholar(s) to assist by rehearsing the choir and accompanying or conducting during regular chapel services and other liturgical events. Generally, the Director of Music chooses the repertoire for the choir’s services, however, there are always opportunities to get involved in creating music lists and to put forward suggestions for repertoire. Organ scholars also give recitals in their chapels, which provide an opportunity to explore solo works and develop performance skills, crucial for any aspiring organist. For those organ scholars studying music, this is especially useful when preparing for performance modules. Being an organ scholar at a college with a Director of Music allows time to engage in other musical activities, with many organ scholars being part of university ensembles on second study instruments, for example, the Oxford University Orchestra.
Aside from the choir’s liturgical commitments, life as a member of the chapel community brings a wealth of further experiences. Many choirs tour together, giving concerts in a variety of international destinations. More locally, college choirs and orchestras may collaborate; recently, college choirs joined together to perform a varied programme including Parry’s ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’ in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Occasionally, more unusual opportunities arise for organ scholars, such as film for an episode of the ITV detective drama, Endeavour. Organ scholars play a crucial role in organising events such as choir dinners in college and social events with other choirs, including the annual inter-collegiate football tournament.
Personally, I feel that I have already gained so much from my organ scholarship. A Director of Music acts, somewhat, as a mentor who encourages you in so many ways to develop your musicianship. Holding an official position, during your time as a student within the college community, is an exceptional experience, equipping you with skills which will prove invaluable in life beyond Oxford, whatever your chosen path.
Organ scholar at a choral foundation
When I first arrived, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Despite having sung in choirs regularly and accompanied choirs at school, I had very little experience with the daily choral music tradition. It was immediately apparent that I had a lot to learn! A foundation organ scholarship offers what can only be described as total immersion; with services six days a week, three on a Sunday, and chorister rehearsals most mornings, it becomes a defining part of life. Within a couple of weeks, the idea of having a schedule any less intense feels very bizarre. Whilst it is busy, the early mornings seem to magically conjure an extra several hours to each day, and I find make me much more productive. Working with intelligent young boys means that you really have to be on the ball for the 7.50am rehearsals; as part of my job I train the probationers every morning, teaching them the basics of technique and repertoire.
The opportunities that a foundation scholarship offers are fantastic; as well as giving one amazing (and regular!) teaching and playing experience, it gives access to the best teachers, with lessons included in the scholarship. It also offers the opportunity for tours and recordings with the choir; since I have been here we have done a tour to Holland and recorded two discs, as well as a Radio 3 live broadcast. It also allows you to work with incredibly talented musicians, in both the front and back rows of the choir, and with the other organists/directors of music. Most of all, an organ scholarship at a choral foundation teaches you how to manage your life; it requires a certain level of organization and planning to fit everything in, and it can be difficult to juggle a degree with an organ scholarship, but you quickly learn how to prioritise, an essential skill for later in life. All and all, it is an invaluable experience, which I would recommend to anyone.