For the most up-to-date information about organ awards, including how to apply, please see the main University page here.
Organ scholars are students (usually undergraduates) who direct or assist with the music in a college chapel. The nature and scope of the responsibilities varies from college to college: you could be working with an experienced choral director as organist and/or assistant conductor of a choir that sings several times a week, or you could be recruiting your own team of singers and working directly with your college chaplain to organise music in one or two services per week. There is huge variety, so it’s worth giving thought to how your application matches the duties and responsibilities you find most attractive. All organ scholars study toward a degree alongside their organ scholarship; many read Music, but other subjects are also available (and some colleges offer an organ scholarship but do not accept Music students).
Organ scholars take charge of, or assist with, the music of the college chapel. In a number of colleges, the organ scholar also acts as an organiser of general musical activity. All organ scholars earn a modest fee, but in most colleges this is supplemented by free organ tuition.
In some colleges the organ scholar is in charge of chapel music. These are Balliol, Corpus Christi, Exeter, Hertford, Jesus, Lincoln, Pembroke and Trinity Colleges. The duties here range from one to three services per week. Elsewhere, the organ scholar assists a professional Director of Music: at Brasenose, Christ Church, Keble, Lady Margaret Hall, Magdalen, Mansfield, Merton, New, Oriel, Queen’s, Somerville, St Edmund Hall, St Peter’s, University and Worcester Colleges. In this second group, the range of commitment varies widely from two services a week to nearly daily commitment at the choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen College and New College).
All organ scholars benefit from the programme of activities organised by the Betts Centre for Organ Studies.
Which colleges offer organ awards?
See the University Organ Awards webpage for information on which colleges are offering an organ scholarship in the next admissions round.
College Directors of Music and Chaplains are always happy to hear from potential candidates, and to answer any questions they may have about the duties of an organ scholar in their college; you should be able to find their contact email addresses on their college websites.
How do I apply?
You must complete and submit this form by noon on 1 September. You may apply for as many college places as you wish. If a college is advertising both for direct entry and for deferred entry, you may apply for both, and there is no requirement for you to put these two places consecutively. You are advised to put down every college place for which you would be prepared to accept an offer.
Organ award applicants may apply to both Oxford and Cambridge. The timetables of the auditions at the two universities are designed in order that this is possible. Should you choose to do this, you are advised not to apply to more than 10 college places at the first-choice university. Take advice over the completion of the application form, and take particular care in selecting the order of your college preferences.
As part of your application you should include a personal statement, which will probably be the same as for your UCAS application in October. If you are unable to submit the final version of your UCAS personal statement at the time of the organ award application, you may submit a working draft, but you should clearly indicate that this is the case and forward the finished version to your first-choice college as soon as possible, and certainly before the auditions themselves.
Your application will need to be supported by an academic reference from your school or college and by a musical reference from your organ teacher or other suitable person. Your referees must send their references directly to the admissions office of your first-choice college by 1 September.
As well as the practical tests, candidates in most subjects will be examined academically at the time of the September organ award auditions. If your application is judged strong enough to be considered, you will be invited to submit representative examples of your written work (if this is required for your course) shortly after the 1 September deadline. You are recommended to have this work ready in advance so that you can send it off quickly once it is requested. Consult the admissions advice issued for your subject regarding the requirements for submitted work. All candidates will be required to complete a UCAS application once the outcome of the auditions has been announced.
You are advised to make sure that your school or college is well aware that you are applying for an award before the end of the summer term so that they will be able to supply references in good time.
The deadline for submission of applications is noon on 1 September and late applications will not be accepted. The order of your college preferences may not be changed after the deadline and you cannot change the subject you are applying for after this time.
Further information about organ awards and about the application process for them can be found at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/choral-and-organ-awards/organ-awards
There are three choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen College and New College) which sing daily services during Full Term (Christ Church sings for longer terms including Christmas and Easter). These three choirs and several of the mixed-voice choirs enjoy an international reputation, and have busy schedules of concert performances, tours, recordings, and broadcasts. The choral foundation choirs comprise boy trebles (educated at the college schools) and adult voices. At Christ Church and New College there are between six and eight ‘lay clerks’ (i.e. paid singers) and six to eight choral scholars (or ‘academical clerks’). At Magdalen College, there are up to three lay clerks and nine choral scholars. There are specific vacancies for altos, tenors, and basses (including baritones). The musical directors of the choral foundations and several of the mixed-voice choirs are senior members of the University. Among the mixed-voice choirs, Queen’s, Merton, and Exeter sing three services a week in term-time, and most of the other mixed-voice choirs sing one or two services at week. At Worcester College there are boy trebles, in addition to sopranos. At all colleges, except the choral foundations, choral awards are offered to sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.
Many other colleges offer opportunities to sing in their college choirs, but do not participate in the choral awards scheme. Please see individual college websites for details.
For more detailed information on submission deadlines etc., please visit the University’s website.
THE CHORAL SCHOLARS
If you are appointed to a choral award you will sing in the college’s chapel choir under the direction of the director of music or organ scholar. There is a financial award, which is supplemented in some colleges by additional payments and fees for special events. Many colleges help pay for singing lessons.
You can find out more by visiting the individual college websites, and by consulting the document ‘College Organ & Choral Scholarship Details 2021-22’, under ‘related documents’ at https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/choral-and-organ-awards/choral-awards
HOW TO APPLY
There are two parts to the entry procedure – the choral audition (in September) and the academic interview (in December – as part of the UCAS admissions process). The audition is to assess your vocal and musical aptitude, while for the academic interview you will join all the other candidates competing for places at Oxford. In both September and December, you will be accommodated at your first choice college, which will pass on a detailed timetable closer to the time. There are two separate application forms: a choral application form and the UCAS form. If you click on the link below you will also find there detailed instructions about the choral application form – its completion, on the choice of college, and the audition. You should submit it by noon on 1 September. A few days after the choral audition you will receive a letter telling you whether you have reached a standard to be considered for a choral award. Of course, this refers only to the choral award – since there has been no academic interview at this stage. UCAS forms should then be submitted. The closing date is 15 October. It is only after the full admission procedure and academic interview in December that you will hear whether you have been offered a choral award.
The choral award application form is available here
THE CHORAL AUDITION
For choral singers a quick ear and an aptitude for sight-reading are both important, especially in choirs that perform a large repertory. These skills need to be developed as much as the voice and vocal technique. They can be improved with steady work. Organists and tutors are aware that a candidate may have been singing for a relatively short period, and will take this into account. But a candidate ought to have had some systematic singing tuition before the audition. When you choose a piece to perform at the audition it is important to bear in mind range and technique. Select music that displays your vocal and musical capabilities to the full, without going beyond what your technique can support. You do not have to perform sacred music. It is better to sing a complete solo than a verse sections from a longer anthem. Remember a successful audition does not automatically mean that a choral award will be offered; this will depend upon the strength of competition from other candidates. You have to gain a place in open competition with others applying for the same honours degree course. Please consult the organist or music tutor of colleges offering choral awards for further advice.
Betts Centre for Organ Studies exists to support Organ Scholars at Oxford. The Betts Fellow in Organ Studies, Katharine Pardee, organises masterclasses in organ by internationally-renowned performers and teachers, catch-up classes in topics that may be of use to organ scholars, and social occasions during the academic year.
In addition, the Betts Centre for Organ Studies organises trips to the Continent once or twice a year to visit and play historic organs. These trips, generously supported by the Betts Fund, are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to play some of the magnificent organs so often seen in pictures and heard in recordings. Not only are these study tours true eye-openers to the rich world of organ literature and music history, but they are also tremendous fun and a good way to get to know colleagues.
Choral and Organ Awards Open Day
Saturday 27th April 2024
Oxford's college chapels provide outstanding opportunities for participating in liturgical music as well as offering exceptional performance, touring and recording experience. Many colleges offer awards to singers and organists who contribute to this aspect of college life. Choral scholars are trained to a very high level through their college chapel choir and some go on to become professional singers. Toby Spence, Emma Kirkby and Robin Blaze were all Oxford choral scholars.
Organ scholars also play a crucial part in Oxford music. In some colleges, they direct the music in chapel; in others they assist professional directors. The role develops skills in choral accompanying, direction, and administration. Many Oxford organ scholars have gone on to become celebrated musicians whilst others have attained distinction elsewhere, including a Prime Minister and a Hollywood actor.
Join us on our open day to find out what's involved in being an organ or choral scholar and how you can apply! The open day includes informative talks and Q&As with current students and Directors of Music, as well as advice on how to prepare for auditions. You'll also have the opportunity to take part in choral, organ, and conducting workshops in various historic college chapels, and to join one of our college choirs for Evensong.
Under normal circumstances, you are welcome to visit the University. College grounds are usually open to prospective applicants but you can also get in touch with the college linked to your region and let them know you are coming. You may also be able to attend an event listed in our outreach calendar whilst you’re here.