Church choral singing has traditionally provided young musicians with an invaluable education in music theory and music performance. Many professional singers owe their earliest, and in some ways, their most formative education, to the training they received by singing in Cathedral Choirs. Well – many professional male singers!
Gloucester Cathedral in the United Kingdom has recently won praise for welcoming girl choristers into the Cathedral Choir. In 2016, it is considered groundbreaking for Cathedral Choirs to allow girls into their programs. To borrow from John Oliver and ‘Last Week Tonight’ – how is this still a thing?!
An article by British organist, composer and conductor Colin Mawby, provides a perfect articulation of the problem with this situation: “a onetime choirboy of mine, now a very dear friend, was talking about the education of his children. ‘I would love to send my sons to our old choir school,’ he said, ‘but I don’t feel it is right to give them a musical education the school denies to my daughters.'”
While many Cathedral Choirs in the United Kingdom have made the decision to introduce positions for girl choristers, many have not. St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the ‘People’s Cathedral’, still denies girls the opportunity of singing with the Cathedral Choir and benefiting from its exemplary training. Their website reads: “enthusiasm, intelligence and potential are keys to becoming a St Paul’s Chorister…any boy with talent can have the opportunity of a lifetime being a Chorister at St Paul’s. All choristers receive 100 per cent bursaries and help with boarding fees is also available.”
The monopoly of boy trebles is not limited to Cathedral choirs – nor is it limited to the UK.
Both the Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals of Sydney still only offer treble positions to boys. Many new works, including those by Australian composers, still specify “boy soprano” roles. While many fine choral training programs are made available to boys and girls across the country, why are girls excluded from some of the most well-respected and well-established programs, purely because they are girls?