Wells Cathedral Choir

Choirs & Musicians


The Choir celebrated its 1100th birthday in 2009: boys first sang at Wells Cathedral in 909 and the full choral tradition dates back over 800 years. In 1994, the choral foundation at Wells was enriched by the addition of Girl Choristers, who celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2024.

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The Cathedral Choir is at the heart of the worshipping life of the Cathedral and always has been. Boys first sang at Wells Cathedral in 909, and the full choral tradition dates back over 800 years. Some Vicars Choral and the Organists still live in Vicars’ Close, making it the oldest medieval street in Europe continuously occupied for its original purpose. In 1994, the Choral Foundation at Wells was enriched by the addition of Girl Choristers, and we are looking forward to celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Girl Choristers in 2024 with a series of celebratory events.

Today, Wells Cathedral Choir is renowned for the breadth and depth of its musical repertoire, for the quality of its choral music as a key part of the liturgy, and for its wider contribution to the commissioning of new music. With the financial assistance of the Cathedral Commissions Scheme (established in 2006), the Choir has premiered works by some of the finest composers of our time, including Michael Berkeley, Judith Bingham, Geoffrey Burgon, Bob Chilcott, Jonathan Dove, Grayston Ives, Gabriel Jackson, John Joubert, Cecilia McDowall, James MacMillan, Peter Maxwell Davies, Tarik O’Regan, John Rutter, Anna Semple, Howard Skempton, John Tavener, Judith Weir, and many more.

The Choir has been praised for its innovative recordings for the Hyperion, Regent, Signum, and Resonus labels. As well as the liturgical musical repertoire, the Choir performs larger scale choral works in concert, and has collaborated most recently with the English Chamber Orchestra. In addition, the Choir performs regularly with the choirs and orchestral musicians of Wells Cathedral School.

The Choir has toured extensively over the years. Most recently, the Choristers have toured to The Netherlands and Edinburgh.

The Cathedral Choir

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The Choristers at Wells Cathedral comprise eighteen boys and eighteen girls. These two separate choirs take it in turns to sing with the Vicars Choral, and occasionally perform on their own. All Choristers are educated at Wells Cathedral School, often supported by scholarships and additional bursaries to assist with fees.

Choristers usually enter the choir in Year 4 or Year 5 (8 or 9 years old), but this can vary, and we welcome enquiries about entry in year 3. Choristers usually leave the choir at the end of Year 9 (14 years old), or when a boy’s voice changes.

Year 3 pupils may take part in a ‘pre-probationer’ year-long introductory programme; they undertake a reduced schedule of  duties, allowing them to adapt gradually to the life of a Chorister.

Choristers rehearse each morning before school. They alternate singing Evensong during the week, share the services at weekends, and take part in special services at Easter and Christmas.

Choristers

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The Vicars Choral are the altos, tenors and basses of the Cathedral Choir.

They are not in holy orders; the word ‘vicar’ comes from ‘vice’ and simply means a deputy (as in vice-president). Historically, vicars were the substitutes or deputies for the canons, who were often away from the Cathedral while engaged on the affairs of their estates or on the King’s business.

The body of Vicars Choral has been in existence since the 1100s, singing the daily round of divine services in the Cathedral in place of the canons. Initially they lodged among the townsfolk rather than on Cathedral grounds, allowing them to succumb to worldly temptation.

To rectify this unsatisfactory situation, in 1348 Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury founded a College of Vicars, of whom there were more than forty, and provided a communal hall and buildings for accommodation grouped around a quadrangle, in much the same manner as an Oxford or Cambridge college. Bishop Ralph also endowed the Vicars with a landed estate which provided them with a small income. In the early fifteenth century, a chapel was built for the Vicars, and the quadrangle was converted into a street, now known as Vicars’ Close. Largely undisturbed, Vicars’ Close is the oldest continually inhabited street in Europe and still houses the organists and the Vicars Choral of the choir, as well as other employees of the Cathedral.

Today there are nine Vicars Choral and three Choral Scholars, all professional singers, who are paid by Chapter and are provided with housing in Vicars’ Close. The twelve adults of the choir sing the daily services in the Cathedral together with either the boy or girl choristers, performing an extensive repertoire of music from all historical periods and the present day.

At Evensong on Wednesday the Vicars Choral sing without the choristers, allowing a different repertoire to be sung, in particular, plainchant. Every year in November the Vicars Choral sing a Commemoration Concert in honour of Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury and in appreciation for his vision in founding the College of Vicars Choral.

Vicars Choral

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Alexander Hamilton, Acting Director of Music

Alexander Hamilton is Acting Director of Music at Wells Cathedral, a position he took up in December 2022, having been Assistant Director of Music since 2020.

In this role, Alexander oversees all aspects of the Cathedral’s musical life. He is the principal director of Wells Cathedral Choir, and is responsible for the training and care of the Choristers. Alexander is also Artistic Director of Cathedral Commissions and Music Director of Wells Cathedral Oratorio Society. Recent and forthcoming performances as a conductor include Bach Christmas Oratorio, Mass in B minor and St John Passion, Elgar The Dream of Gerontius, Fauré Requiem, Handel Coronation Anthems and Messiah, and John Rutter Gloria, Magnificat and Requiem. In May 2023, he curated the Sound of Wells Festival 2023, which featured over 300 musicians from across the community; the Festival will return in May 2024.

Prior to taking up his appointments in Wells, Alexander held organ scholarships at Westminster Abbey, Trinity College, Cambridge and St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. He has studied the organ with Henry Fairs, Ann Elise Smoot, Colin Walsh and Stephen Farr. Alexander read Music as Organ Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he accompanied the choir in its schedule of services, concerts and tours. He has appeared as both accompanist and soloist on a number of critically-acclaimed recordings, including discs of music by Stanford, Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Cecilia McDowall and Owain Park, and also features on a recent album by the internationally-renowned vocal ensemble Voces8.

Alexander won First Prize in the Northern Ireland International Organ Competition 2015. Recent engagements have included a Bach concert at the St Albans International Organ Festival, and recitals at the London Organ Day, King’s College, Cambridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, St John’s Smith Square and Westminster Abbey. During 2016-2017, he was Artistic Director of Bach at Trinity, a year-long recital series surveying the complete organ works of Bach. He has tutored for Creative Oundle for Organists courses, and is the principal organ teacher at Wells Cathedral School.

 

Acting Director of Music

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Carolyn Craig, Assistant Director of Music

Carolyn Craig is the Assistant Director of Music at Wells Cathedral, a position she took up in April 2024, having been Organ Scholar at Westminster Abbey since 2023.

American organist Carolyn Craig, FRCO MMA, is the Assistant Director of Music at Wells Cathedral. Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, she earned her organ performance degrees in the United States (BM Indiana University ’18, MM Yale University ’21, MMA Yale University ’22) and first worked in the United Kingdom as organ scholar at Truro Cathedral between her degrees, in 2018/2019. Following graduation from Yale University, she became organ scholar of Westminster Cathedral and then of Westminster Abbey.

Recent prizes include the Limpus/Shinn/Durrant and Dr F J Read Prizes in the 2022/2023 FRCO examinations, the 2nd Prize and the Prize for the Interpretation of Tariverdiev’s Works in the 2021 Mikael Tariverdiev International Organ Competition, and Yale’s Mary Baker Prize in Organ Accompaniment for her work with the Yale Schola Cantorum under the direction of David Hill.

Carolyn performs internationally and has been featured on a number of radio programmes, including the American nationally broadcast programme Pipedreams. She has been featured at national conventions of the American Guild of Organists as a performer and speaker, the latter as co-founder of amplifyfemalecomposers.org  and as a contributor to the inclusive church music planning resource at greathostcomposers.org. To learn more, visit carolyncraigmusician.com.

Assistant Director of Music

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Wells Cathedral Chamber Choir was launched in September 2021 and is one of the South West’s leading auditioned chamber groups specialising in liturgical music.

The Chamber Choir sings around thirty services each year in Wells Cathedral and also spends a week in residency providing the music in another cathedral. A typical weekend in Wells involves singing Evensong on Saturday and the Eucharist and Evensong on Sunday.

The Choir also undertakes outreach engagements throughout the Diocese and accepts private engagements (weddings, funerals and thanksgiving services, for instance) in the Cathedral and elsewhere.

Rehearsals are held on Thursday evenings from 7.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m., usually in the choir practice rooms at the Cathedral.

To find out more about the Chamber Choir, visit our website: www.wellscathedralchamberchoir.org.uk.

If you are interested in joining the choir or would like us to sing at your wedding or a funeral, contact us at chamberchoir@wellscathedral.org.uk.

Chamber Choir

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Wells Cathedral Song Squad is our Junior Choir open to all children aged 4 to 13 (inclusive), who attend any school. It’s great fun and there’s no audition. The only requirements are an eagerness to learn and a love of singing!

Rehearsals are held on Tuesdays during term time from 5.00 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. (for the 4 to 6 year-olds), and 5.00 p.m. to  6.00 p.m. (for the 7 – 13 year olds), in the Education Room at Wells Cathedral.

For more information please email wellssongsquad@gmail.com.

Please provide your child’s name and date of birth, and a parent/guardian’s name, telephone number, and home address.

Song Squad

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Wells Cathedral Oratorio Society (WCOS), founded in 1896, performs major works from the choral repertory with some of the country’s leading soloists and orchestral ensembles.

With around 120 voices the society gives three concerts a year, and is conducted by the Director of Music at Wells Cathedral. Concerts are normally in early November, December (an annual performance of Handel’s Messiah) and late March.

The society also hosts a Come and Sing day each year, normally in May, to which all are welcome to study and perform a work from scratch.

With a repertoire ranging from the masterpieces of the Baroque through the Classical and Romantic periods to the present day, the society works with a number of specialist orchestras including, Music for Awhile, Chameleon Arts, La Folia, the English Chamber Orchestra and the English Symphony Orchestra.

WCOS usually rehearse on Monday evenings from 7.30pm to 9.30 p.m. in the Cathedral, and generally follow Wells Cathedral School’s term dates.

More information about the Society can be found on their website.

Wells Cathedral Oratorio Society

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When Wells Cathedral choir is on vacation we warmly welcome other choirs, from both this country and abroad, to come and sing the services.

Visiting choirs play a valuable part in the life of the Cathedral, enabling the choral tradition to continue during Cathedral Choir holidays.

If there are no suitable dates or services available for your choir to sing, we may be able to offer you a lunchtime concert slot. Click here to find out more and to make an enquiry.

Visiting Choirs

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The WCCA was formed in 2009  with the aim of maintaining a link between the Cathedral and the current choir with former choristers, Vicars Choral, choral scholars and organists.

The committee works closely with the Cathedral, the Cathedral School and the Old Wellensian Association to maintain contact with past members of the music establishment, organise reunions and share news.

The WCCA has been an active member of the Federation of Old Choristers Association since its foundation, providing articles and updates to its magazine, Once A Chorister.

The committee is chaired by Chris Seaton, a former chorister in the Choir from 1971–1975.

Contact

We are always very happy to hear from old members of the Music Foundation, and particularly to receive photographs and contributions for future newsletters and communications. Please send an e-mail to wcca@wells-cathedral-school.com.

Wells Cathedral Choir Association

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