Choral Trials at the University of Oxford take place every September. If your application is successful, you will sing in the choir of your chosen college for the duration of your course. Choral Trials have three key elements:

  • A prepared piece
  • Two pieces of sight reading
  • An interview

    The choirs at Oxford vary hugely in standard. By reputation, New College has the finest choir at the time of writing, whereas St. Peter's is not so highly esteemed. Thus it is more difficult to get a choral award at some colleges than at others. At King's College Cambridge, for example, a choral award implies professional standards. So.

    Having filled in your intimidatory form, bursting with legalese, you rock up late-September at the college of your choice on Wednesday morning. You will need:

  • One set of smart performance attire
  • Casual clothes
  • Generic overnight equipment
  • 3 copies of your chosen prepared piece.
  • A top-class liver

    Choosing a piece to perform is a delicate art. Your piece must be sacred: no profanity in church, it seems. It should be 2-4 minutes long, and whilst fitting your range very easily, also show it off to its greatest extent. This is no easy thing. Choose a piece that you can sing on a bad day, when you can't project, or tune or anything and want to pack it in, ie, choose something that you can sing when at your worst. This not only ensures that come what may you'll be able to struggle through come the day, but that the simplicity of the piece will allow you to concentrate wholly on expression and musicianship. Keep it Simple, Stupid.

    So, you rock up Wednesday morning, and do that awkward milling thing around a bunch of people you've never met, and with whom you are in direct competition. It's great, believe me. All the public school boys will be in suits, everyone else in chinos and a shirt. This is traditional. The public school pupil's refuge in time of doubt is inevitably the most imposing and/or impressive garb in their wardrobes. Hence suits. But I digress.

    At lunchtime or thereabouts, you all congregate in the Chapel and get spoken to, and given your audition times and places, in alphabetical order. Insert your own philosophical musings on whether it's better to go first or last here. Bring your prepared piece with you to this meeting, and give a copy to the Organ Scholar who will take it away under the pretence that he'll practice it. He won't: the whole point of Organ Scholars is that you ph34r their truly mad keyboard skills, for they are unbroken in their chosen art, etc.. To these venerable sages, sight-reading is a defeated foe. So, all that remains is to kill time, drink a lot of water, panic, drink more water, and rock up at the appointed place, 15 minutes early . This is important. You will then be given two pieces of sight reading to work through before your audition. If you are fortunate, (or just well-sung- but what's the difference in the final analysis?) you might know one of the pieces. The other is uniformly obscure. But here's the thing: you get to practice with a piano. That accomplished, you go in, realise that one third of all the University's organ scholars have turned up to watch, and start. First your prepared piece, then the sight reading. And then it's all over. Very fast. Whew.

    By the evening, a kind of camaraderie has sprung up amongst the applicants, as it does on trains amidst passengers when some appalling delay has occurred, with no feasible excuse in sight. United by the sheer horror of their experiences, everyone gets along nicely. Although it's by no means expected, you might all then do a service- we did. It was fun, if you like that sort of thing. If you don't, why are you applying? It is then traditional to go out to the pub, with the Organ Scholar. Your bearing at this juncture is obviously up to you. After that, perhaps ten of you will go on to some clubs, and then a pub, and then an Indian, and then the Organ Scholar's room with plenty of red wine. Or maybe you won't be that stupid.

    So, the next morning, having tried to eat and simply thrown up, you sit in the position of least resistance and wait for your interview, a time for which you were allotted last night after the service. You then go and be interviewed by the Chaplain and the Organ Scholar, with whom it is permissible to exchange compassionate glances. In the interview, you will be asked obvious questions, amongst which "Why College X?" "Why singing?" "Why subject X?". If you like interviews, this will be fine. If you don?t, erm, just effuse, I suppose. I'm blessed in this kind of situation, because I love to discuss ideas. We ended up discussing the role of music in religion: it was fun. After that, you might be asked by other colleges to go and sing for them. This is why it was stupid to get hammered last night, see? You might still need to sing today. Hmm. After this, you are free to go. At twelve noon precisely. There, now, that wasn't so bad, was it?

    Your colleges will write to you the next day (Friday) to inform you of whether you're good enough. Courtesy of Consignia this will arrive two weeks late, after you have given up hope. I don't know what the "you're not good enough" letter says, but the "you're good enough" letter is nothing if not circumspect. Essentially, they have to offer more places than they have, on the assumption that not everyone will get in academically. The letter makes abundantly clear that "This doesn't mean anything" : this 'acceptance' letter guarantees you nothing, in theory. In practice, however, my school has never known anyone receive this letter, pass academically and then not get a choral award. Do note that the influence of your choral award over your academic entry may vary hugely. As in, proportionately to the prestige of the choir. It's safest, of course, if you expect nothing.

    Benefits of choral award? Again, these vary hugely. At New College, singing will be a second career, and accordingly you can make around £5k a year in your capacity. Elsewhere, you'll get a nominal £50 pa. Wherever you go, you'll sing. This is what is important. If you don't succeed, there are always plenty of groups for non-choral scholars. It's all good.

    So there it is! Nothing more calamitous than what is described herein will befall you. Be fatalistic - it's much less stressful - and have fun!

    Thanks to Helen4Morrissey and saint for the idea for this wu.

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