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   Inside Out - South East: Monday January 10, 2005

CANTERBURY CHOIR - THE NEXT GENERATION

Canterbury choirboys
Voices of angels - The Canterbury choir perform t

Meet one of Britain's most squeaky clean boy bands. Like other groups they perform in front of crowds of thousands, but their stage isn't a pop concert arena, it's a cathedral.

Join Inside Out as for the first time in its 1400 year history, Canterbury Cathedral allows BBC cameras to follow the auditions for 2005's choirboys.

The Canterbury Cathedral choir consists of boys aged between eight and 14 trained to perform before royalty, world leaders and congregations of thousands.

"It is an opportunity second to none," explains Master of the Choristers, David Flood.

David Flood
"It is an opportunity second to none."
Master of the Choristers, David Flood

"We're in Canterbury Cathedral which has a very important role in the Church of England and also worldwide.

"The eyes of the world turn themselves on you."

As Master of the Choristers, David is in charge of selecting Canterbury's next generation of choirboys and competition is fierce.

From numerous applications, just 12 have been chosen to attend auditions to compete for five available places in the choir.

Little angels

Charlie George from Kent and Cameron Walker from East Sussex are two seven-year-olds both competing for one of a handful of places in the world famous Canterbury Cathedral choir.

CHORISTERS

Normally about half a dozen boys are selected each year depending on the number of boys who have left during the year previous.

They stay in the choir until their voices break, normally when they are 12 or 13 years old.

They will Evensong six times a week (having Wednesday as a day off) plus the main Sung Eucharist service on Sunday mornings.

There are also extra services, such as weddings, funerals, and one-off great occasions such as the Enthronement of a new Archbishop.

The choristers attend rehearsals every morning before school and some evening ones, so each week the boys may spend 12-14 hours in the Cathedral.

Each boy learns at least two musical instruments.

Source: Canterbury Cathedral

Charlie's mum and dad, Alison and Andy, insist their son is a natural when it comes to performing.

"He just seems to revel in anything like this," explains Alison.

Whilst Cameron's mum, Katherine, realised her son was gifted after hearing him perform in a school play.

"He does sing like an angel really," says Katherine.

"Whether he gets in or not, he'll still be our angel."

Raw talent

Charlie and Cameron have what is known in the singing world as the "makings of a voice".

Both have the potential to become top flight choristers, but with 12 boys and only five places, will they make the grade?

To the untrained ear, the boys auditioning maybe a far cry from the melodious tones of Aled Jones, but David is searching for raw talent which has the potential to be trained.

"It's the energy, it's the personality, the spark behind the voice," explains David.

Cameron Walker
Seven-year-old Cameron has the "makings of a voice"

Rich rewards

It is not just a place in the coveted choir and expert music tuition that the boys are competing for, but a scholarship worth £9,000-a-year to attend St Edmund's School, Canterbury.

The 29 Canterbury choirboys are all boarders, living in a 16th century house at the back of the cathedral.

This poses a difficult decision for parents.

"I wouldn't be able to tuck him up at night and I've thought about that for a long time," admits Katherine.

HISTORY

There has been a choir school in The Precincts for many hundreds, possibly going back to the time of St Augustine himself, who came to Canterbury in 597.

Early Statutes of the Cathedral, dating from the reign of Henry VIII, say that there should be ten choristers, "boys of tender age both with musical voices and apt for singing, who shall serve, minister and sing in the Choir."

Recent ex Choristers include Oz Clarke, Harry Christophers (founder of the leading choir The Sixteen), Christopher Seaman (international conductor), and Trevor Pinnock (international musician and harpsichordist).

Until 1972, the Choir School was a separate school with 60 boys, 30 boarders and 30 day boys.

Since 1972, Choir House has been part of St Edmund's School, with 30 boarders.

Source: Canterbury Cathedral

"As a parent you have to look at what's in the best interest of your child and concentrate on that."

Charlie's mum Alison agrees.

"It's a marvellous opportunity that will really benefit him."

Under pressure

Before they can audition to become a Canterbury chorister, Cameron and Charlie have to sit an entrance exam for St Edmund's School.

"Having a good voice and the potential to learn musically is important, but they must also be able to cope with the academic curriculum we follow," insists Robert Bacon, Headmaster of St Edmund's Junior School.

Like most young children, Charlie and Cameron take the pressures of exams comfortably in their stride - it's their parents that are left pacing with nerves outside.

With the academic auditions complete, Charlie and Cameron are given their chance to shine in the musical ones.

Hitting the high notes

Charlie George
Charlie hopes his audition will secure him a place in the choir

The boys each have 10 minutes to perform a song, scales and play an instrument.

"I need to take time, put them at their ease and allow them to do their best," says David.

The 12 auditioning choristers sing their hearts out for just five coveted places and making a decision is no easy task.

"It would be lovely to take them all, but I can't," says David.

With exams complete and the audition over, there is nothing left for the families of Charlie and Cameron to do except wait.

And Charlie for one is determined to remain pragmatic.

"I don't mind if I get in or if I don't get in… I just hope I get in."

Decision time

Canterbury choir in 1923
The Canterbury choristers of 1923
Image courtesy: Canterbury Cathedral

After four hours of auditions, David and Robert are left with some tough decisions - 12 boys and only five places.

Taking into consideration the boys academic performance in the exam and their musical performance in the audition, they finally reach a decision.

Eighteen months of extra tuition and singing lessons have paid off for Cameron - he is in.

Mum Katherine is overjoyed and overcome with emotion.

For Charlie the news isn't as good. It is a close decision and unfortunately, he doesn't make it through to the final five.

AUDITIONS

For enquiries regarding Canterbury choir auditions please contact:

David Flood, Master of the Choristers
01227 865242

Charlie soon bounces back from his disappointment though to take the lead role in a local play - we're sure we haven't heard the last of Charlie yet!

For Cameron however, Canterbury awaits. He has the makings of a voice and now it is up to David Flood to turn it into the voice of top flight chorister.

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
BBC Kent: Canterbury Cathedral
BBC Kent: 360 degree panorama Canterbury Cathedral

On the rest of the web
Canterbury Cathedral

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Katherine (Cameron's mum)
I am Cameron's mum, Katherine (not 'C'), and I'd like firstly to wish Charlie every success with his drama and dance interests and thank the BBC team for such a sympathetic programme. We were absolutely thrilled, as you could see, when we were told our little man had been accepted to the choir, we've been on quite a journey. We feel very proud and not a little honoured to be asked to join, we know that Cameron will make the most of his time spent with David and at St Ed's school.

Linda
Thankyou for a delightful programme. Memories came flooding back to 1982 when our son auditioned and was accepted. He ended up as Head Chorister and had a great time. David Flood was organist then and Alan Wicks was Choir Master. The accedemic requirements are very important as was seen on this programme. Graham went on to gain 5 A Levels at Grade A and is now a very successful Veterinary Surgeon working in Folkestone. How about a follow up programme about previous choristers.I wish the new boys every success.

Andrew
Thank you for this delightful programme: it would have been so easy to knock it all as hopelessly elitist. Our Cathedral choristers get a musical education which is second to none and it is great to know that Canterbury at least now gets more applicants than it can cope with. I wonder how many current professional musicians started life as choristers? Both boys featured deserve to do well: I'm sure everyone who saw the programme will wish them BOTH every success.



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