What is so special about Cathedral Choirs?

A cathedral choir is one of the only places where a child is seen as equal to an adult. At St Peter’s Cathedral our treble line is made up of children, ranging in age from eight years old to early teens. When they are in the courtyard they play like any other children. But once the conductor starts, they are expected to do the same task as the adult choristers. And the children live up to the task.

Cathedral choirs in Australia and New Zealand are modelled on those of the great musical foundations and cathedrals in England (Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s London, King’s College Cambridge) – but with one important distinction. Most do not have the financial backing which enables specialist Choir Schools to provide a stream of treble voices or to pay the lay clerks. This is the case at St Peter’s Cathedral, which depends on its volunteer choristers. A cathedral choir is a ‘working choir’, not a concert choir. A cathedral chorister is expected to have a very high standard of sight-singing, and be able to cope with the rigorous demands of a large and varied repertoire of music spanning several centuries. Where the normal concert choir (whether opera chorus, school choir or large choral association choir) will rehearse a set repertoire over many months in preparation for a concert, a Cathedral Choir sings different music every single week, at several services.

Anglican Church music has fed the music world for centuries and is rich and diverse. There are many examples among today’s professional singers (of all types and range of music) who started their musical careers as a humble junior chorister in the treble line of a cathedral choir. St Peter’s Cathedral Choir has its honours list among them.

Treble Choristers are admitted to the Choir as probationers with musical potential but very limited ability. The repertoire is not “dumbed down” for the new children. They are buddied up with experienced choristers and they rise to the occasion. Once the service starts the children are doing the same job as adults. And competent adults at that. The core business is the offering of three services a week. The extras are the concerts, reflections, visits to diocesan and regional centres to offer our gift of music, and interstate and international tours.

Through the latter we offer something different to congregations and audiences around the city, state and world. The Choir has provided music central to civic services such as the Memorial Evensong for Diana Princess of Wales (telecast live to air on the day before her funeral), Farewell Service for Dame Roma Mitchell, Governor of South Australia, the Memorial Service following the Bali bombings and in 2013, the Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela. The Choir has sung for four television recordings of Carol Services for the ABC – 1997, 1998, 2006 and 2012. The Choir has made three CD recordings (Angel Voices Ever Singing, petrus and hark!)