Members of the choir recording the 'Sleeper's Prayer' CD, 2019 - Photo: © foxbrushfilms.com

Choral Awards

Benjamin Nicholas is happy to meet prospective candidates over Zoom or Skype during the current situation. Please contact him by emailing choir@merton.ox.ac.uk to arrange an appointment.
Choral Scholarships

"Merton Chapel is the most perfect place to be – singing in the choir was an absolute thrill."
Dame Emma Kirkby, soprano

The Choir of Merton College has established itself as one of Oxford’s leading mixed-voice choirs. The choir consists of 30 undergraduates and post-graduates, many of whom hold choral scholarships at the College. Members of the choir read a wide range of subjects, and some members of the choir are students at other colleges. The main focus of the choir’s work is the singing of the services in Merton College Chapel where, in addition to Choral Evensong, special services such as the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Carol Services and the Requiem Mass for All Souls have a large following. The choir continues to build its reputation worldwide through numerous international tours, broadcasts and recordings.

The choral scholars study with Giles Underwood and Carys Lane, and take part in masterclasses and workshops with visiting teachers, most recently Steven Varcoe, Robert Rice, Iain Burnside and Rogers Covey-Crump.

A Choral Scholar at Merton:

  • Sings three services a week during term, plus occasional special services
  • Receives an award to the value of £1700 which includes:
    • Funding for singing lessons with the College’s inspirational singing teachers
    • Meals in Hall after choral services
    • A generous honorarium
    • Regular tours abroad
  • Takes part in masterclasses
  • Sings on recordings and broadcasts regularly on the BBC
  • Performs with orchestras (Bach Passions & Mass in B minor, Elgar The Dream of Gerontius, Mozart Requiem, Pärt Passio, etc.)

In addition to 25 Choral Scholars, there are five members of the choir who receive an honorarium per service, and many of the privileges of a Choral Scholar.

Auditions

Prospective singers and organists are welcome to meet with Benjamin Nicholas at any point during the year to discuss choral and organ scholarships.

For further information visit the Faculty of Music’s Organ and Choral Scholarships site.

Choral scholar profiles
Izzi Blain

Name: Izzi Blain

Voice Part: Alto

Subject: English Language & Literature

What was your singing experience before you joined the choir?
Before I joined Merton I had been a chorister at St Albans Cathedral and sung in my school choirs. I had also interned with an adult chamber choir for a couple of years. I had done an Eton Choral Course and sung with the Rodolfus Choir following that.

Why did you choose to apply to be a Choral Scholar at Merton?
I chose to apply to Merton because I had heard that it was one of the best Oxford choirs. I mainly wanted to sing somewhere that sung regular services and was a mixed choir.

What’s the best thing about being a member of the Merton College Choir?
The best thing about being a member of Merton Choir is definitely the social side of it. Not only are you singing beautiful choral music 3 times a week, but you are doing it with lovely, fun people, who also enjoy singing! The choir is such a great way to meet people outside of college if you do not go to Merton to study and there is such an active social element, with the formals after the service and the college bar. It was definitely the most enriching part of my university experience and I'm so glad I decided to audition.

What has been your most memorable experience whilst being a member of the Choir?
My most memorable experiences whilst being a member of Merton were the experiences that we had during the vacations, especially the tour to Singapore and Hong Kong, which was so exciting. Making the Jackson Passion recording during the summer vac was another really memorable experience, and I will always remember staying in Oxford to sing for the Christmas services, which are amazingly atmospheric.

Do you do any other music activities other than Choir?
I sang in an a cappella group called The Oxford Gargoyles and played violin for Oxford University Sinfonietta and Oxford University Philharmonia. I also helped to supervise the Merton Girl Choristers and sometimes sung for their evensongs.

Lucy Gibbs

Name: Lucy Gibbs

Voice Part: Alto

Subject: Music

What was your singing experience before you joined the choir?
I sang in my local church choir which sang three Sunday eucharists a month, was part of a chamber choir at school, a county youth girls’ choir, and had been on a couple of choral courses. I didn’t have any experience of singing evensong or much exposure to many of the popular choral works. But this did not prove to be a barrier when I became a Choral Scholar at Merton.

What has been your favourite piece of music to sing?
My favourite pieces of music have come from contemporary composers including Dobrinka Tabakova, James MacMillan, and Ēriks Ešenvalds. One particular favourite of mine was singing MacMillan’s The Seven Last Words from the Cross at Tewkesbury Abbey for the Three Choirs Festival in 2019. It’s a very atmospheric and emotional piece, and such a joy to sing.

Why did you choose to apply to be a Choral Scholar at Merton?
I applied to Merton to be a Choral Scholar primarily because the Chapel is an absolutely beautiful place to sing in; its acoustics are stunning. As a college, Merton has such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere too in and outside the Chapel. The two aspects combined inspired me to apply for a Choral Scholarship at Merton.

What’s the best thing about being a member of the Merton College Choir?
The best thing is the huge variety of choral music that the choir gets to sing during term-time at evensong or eucharist. Not only that, but the choir also performs concerts in different venues across the UK throughout the year, does annual CD recordings at the end of the year, and frequently goes on tour abroad.

What has been your most memorable experience whilst being a member of the Choir?
The most memorable experience has to be the tour to Singapore and Hong Kong in my second year. We performed at Singapore’s Victoria Hall and appeared on Hong Kong television!

Do you do any other music activities other than Choir?
In Oxford, there is so much music happening, whether it’s orchestras, choirs, or on the stage, so there are lots of opportunities to get involved with. I sing with the university chamber choir, Schola Cantorum, and have taken part in a couple of musical theatre and opera productions with the university Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Whatever your taste in music, Oxford is bound to have a society or group to suit; and if not, start one up!

Frannie Millar

Name: Frannie Millar

Voice Part: Soprano

Subject: Music

What was your singing experience before you joined the choir?
Before I joined Merton choir most of my musical experience was as a pianist and violinist - I didn't really class myself as a singer. I enjoyed singing in several school choirs and then during my final few years at school I started having weekly singing lessons and took the Grade 8 singing exam before I came to Oxford.

Why did you want to be a Choral Scholar?
My music teacher at school suggested that I should think about applying for a choral scholarship - I hadn't even heard about them before - and I thought it sounded like a great way to try to develop my singing further, to bring some structure to my weekly schedule, and to meet some new friends!

Why did you choose to apply to be a Choral Scholar at Merton?
I decided that singing in three services per week was probably around the right level of commitment for me, so I chose Merton rather than applying to one of the college choirs which only sing on Sundays. Plus I thought that Merton Chapel looked particularly beautiful.

What’s the best thing about being a member of the Merton College Choir?
Aside from the singing, I would say that the best thing about Merton choir is definitely the strong sense of community and the close friendships you build. It is lovely to go to dinner in hall with friends after each service and catch up with each other, plus the shared experiences of tours and trips mean that it is really easy to make friends.

What has been your favourite piece of music to sing?
A piece that will always be memorable for me is Allegri's Miserere, which the choir performs every year on Ash Wednesday. I have had the opportunity to sing the soprano solo a few times and whilst it is quite a stressful experience (as it includes very high notes!), it is always such an atmospheric and special service.

Do you do any other music activities other than Choir?
I sing weekly in several other smaller choirs as well as Merton, so singing does definitely take up most of my time! I also enjoy playing the violin in my college orchestra and organising concerts for my college music society where I can perform the solo songs that I work on in my singing lessons.

Joseph Rhee

Name: Joseph Rhee

Voice part: Bass

Subject: Chemistry

What was your singing experience before you joined the choir?
I’d been singing chorally for two years before Merton with my school chapel choir, singing two services a week during term time.

Why did you want to be a Choral Scholar?
I wanted to keep up my singing after school and have something contrasting to my chemistry degree to be occupied with at university.

Why did you choose to apply to be a Choral Scholar at Merton?
Merton was an easy choice for me because of the vast range in repertoire that we sing, the ‘medium’ amount of commitment (less than everyday, but more than once a week), the extent of the touring and recording all done to a high level and the chapel you get to sing in so often!

What’s the best thing about being a member of the Merton College Choir?
I can’t choose one thing but a combination of having a community of friends, from Merton and other colleges too, that you see often during the week for choir and formal dinner after services is so great, and also singing regularly in Merton Chapel is a highlight you never forget!

What has been your most memorable experience whilst being a member of the Choir?
Singing MacMillan’s The Seven Last Words from the Cross at Tewkesbury Abbey in the Three Choirs Festival was just an amazing experience. The setting of Jesus’ seven last words on the cross was just awesome to sing and experience in its fullness with orchestra after only singing it before in rehearsals.

Does being part of the choir affect your work?
Although choir takes up time on 4 days every week, the time that’s spent in choir tends to be when not much is going on around Oxford and if you manage your time well during the week, your work isn’t affected much. Being a scientist with many contact hours I find that choir doesn't clash with my labs and tutorials generally so it makes for a great way to take a break from all of the work during the week.