Choir Schools Association Celebrates Centenary

Choir Schools Association Celebrates Centenary

It is likely that there has been a choir at Rochester Cathedral since its foundation in 604 AD and our current Choir now enjoys a wonderful, fulfilling experience which they will remember fondly for the rest of their lives. The Chorister tradition develops musical gifts, accuracy and concentration and encourages pride and enjoyment in the delivery of professional, high-standard musicmaking on a daily basis. Rochester Cathedral Choirsters are educated in the Preparatory School.


The Choir Schools’ Association (CSA) celebrates its centenary this year, marking the anniversary with a conference on 8 and 9 May hosted by St Paul’s Cathedral School, London, which was a founder member of the Association.

The formation of CSA followed a meeting of the choir school headmasters of Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and King’s College, Cambridge in November 1918 to consider draft legislation about the inspection of independent schools and restrictions on employing children in public performance. In the end cathedral and collegiate choristers were exempt from the legislation, enabling them to continue to rehearse and sing music for religious services on a daily basis.

The founding institutions were also keen to help other less fortunate foundations rebuild their choirs after the deprivations of the First World War. CSA was formed to protect and preserve the unique English choral tradition by ensuring choir schools were financially viable and offered a good education and adequate pastoral care to pupils.

Today CSA has 52 members from the state and independent sector. Together they educate more than 1,200 choristers – boys and girls – who reach academic standards unrecognisable to their counterparts from 100 years ago, while maintaining a rigorous routine of cathedral/chapel services alongside recordings, broadcasts and foreign tours. Many ex-choristers go on to highly successful careers outside of music.

CSA’s centenary year plans include joint concerts and services around the UK, commissioned music and more of the successful outreach work undertaken by cathedral musicians including choristers, choir trainers and organists who share their expertise in singing with children from local primary schools. 

The keynote speech at the anniversary conference will be given by the current Chair of CSA, Paul Smith, Headmaster of Hereford Cathedral School. Andrew Carwood, Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral, will speak about chorister training and there will be a workshop demonstrating the outreach programme run by St Paul’s Cathedral with schools from London boroughs. Other speakers will include the Rt Hon David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and a former chorister of Peterborough Cathedral; Alexander Owen, a former chorister of St Paul’s Cathedral who is now Head of Marketing – Armed Forces at the Royal British Legion; Dr Tim Hands, Headmaster of Winchester College; and Duncan Wilson, CEO of Historic England, whose son was a chorister at St Paul’s.

Choral Evensong at St Paul’s on Wednesday, 9 May will be sung by the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral with singers from the CSA founding institutions of Westminster Abbey and King’s College, Cambridge and the girl choristers of Salisbury Cathedral. The service will include a set of canticles by Dr Richard Shephard, who was a chorister of Gloucester Cathedral and went on to be headmaster of York Minster School alongside his successful career as a composer. The preacher at the service will be the Reverend Richard Coles, the former choirboy and later pop star who now combines parish ministry with a career in broadcasting.

CSA Chair Paul Smith says: ‘We are proud that, one hundred years after its formation, the CSA continues to support and promote the education of cathedral, collegiate and parish church choristers financially (through bursaries), strategically and practically through the expertise of its member schools. It is fitting that our celebratory conference should be held at St Paul’s Cathedral which is such a beacon for musical excellence. We feel sure it will be an occasion to remember.’

For more information on the CSA please visit their website