Westminster Abbey Choir: our guide to the world-famous Abbey choir

Our guide to the world-famous ensemble, which often takes centre stage at royal, state and national occasions

The Westminster Abbey Choir
Published: August 14, 2022 at 12:15 pm
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With a history dating back 700 years, the Westminster Abbey Choir has become synonymous with major state occasions, many of which have been televised across the world. But what is its exact make-up? And what repertoire does it sing? Here is everything you need to know about the world-famous ensemble

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Who sings in the Westminster Abbey Choir?

Up to 30 boys (all of whom attend the Abbey's boarding choir school) and twelve professional adult singers, known as Lay Vicars. The choir is one of the UK's best and most prestigious cathedral and abbey choirs

How do you join the Westminster Abbey Choir?

To join boys have to become a member of the Westminster Abbey's boarding choir school. Boys usually join when they are eight years old and informal auditions are held with the Organist and Master of Choristers. However be warned places are very limited and highly sought after.

How old is the Westminster Abbey Choir and when was it founded?

The choir was founded in the 14th century when the Abbey was a Benedictine monastery. From the beginning its purpose was to sing the daily services but it also plays a key role in the royal, state and national occasions that take place in the Abbey.

Such as?

So many: the funeral of Princess Diana, the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales, services to celebrate the Diamond and Platinum Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II, a thanksgiving service for the life of Prince Philip, and, of course, the Queen's funeral.

What repertoire does the choir sing?

Everything from plainsong and medieval polyphony to contemporary classical music and new commissions.

Does the choir just sing at Westminster Abbey?

No, it has given performances all over the world, in places including the Far East, the United States, Russia, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany and France. In June 2012 Pope Benedict XVI invited the Choir to sing with the Sistine Chapel Choir at a Papal Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. And in the UK it has performed at several venues and festivals including the BBC Proms.

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Who currently conducts the Westminster Abbey Choir?

James O'Donnell

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

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