English Children's Choir Types: Parish Churches

Figure 1.--This commercial English postcard is a depiction of a parish church choir. The card shows children singing a choral hymn. They are obviously in a studio and not a real church. We are not sure just how acurately the children's clothing was depicted. The boys' Eton collar and suits seem fairly accurate. We're not sure about the gurls' hats. We thought that in the early 20th century tht boy choirs were still more common than mixed children's choirs.

Somewhat forgotten today is the strong tradition of parish church boy choirs. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, together with a fall in church attendance there has been a similar decline in candidates presenting themselves for audition. For necessity, therefore, and for social and political reasons), girls choirs are being set up everywhere, which is causing further decline as boys see choral singing as a female activity. Whereas the cathedrals, in the main, are just about keeping the tradition of boys choirs going, most of the parish churches are losing them very rapidly indeed. Before the Second World War it was normal to have a robed boys choir in many parish churches, and somehow people still cling to the idea that churches have choirboys. The fact is, however, that they are very rare indeed compared with the past. A British reader writes, "My county, Norfolk, is unique in its very high concentration of mediaeval churches, over 690 of them, but only the cathedral in Norwich, and two parish churches, boast a traditional boys robed choir. In the diocese of Bath and Wells, apart from Wells Cathedral and Bath Abbey, there are none. I am afraid it has pretty well bled to death. As recently as the 1970s the City of Norwich, which has itself over 30 mediaeval parish churches within its "walls", had a very fine choir in St Peter Mancroft. This rivalled the choir in the cathedral itself. They now have a small adult choir but there remains a handful of boys who at Christmas time dress up in Tudor costumes. If they still actually sing on these occasions it will probably be a much reduced spectacle."


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Created: 10:39 PM 6/1/2008
Last updated: 10:39 PM 6/1/2008