The Choir and Organ
Not only is St Peter’s home to one of Oxford University’s finest mixed-voice choirs, but its chapel is fortunate in that it still possesses its original organ, built by ‘Father’ Henry Willis in 1875.
Almost all of the current choir are members of St Peter’s College, although a small number of students audition to join who are members of other colleges.
The Choir sings an extensive repertoire of Church music, primarily at the two Evensong services in St Peter’s each week during term. It conducts UK and overseas tours, and performs several concerts each year.
The Choir has continued to perform and record music remotely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. A full archive of the recordings produced during Trinity term can be found here. Recordings for Michaelmas term 2020 will be made available here.
The Choir is known for its very high standard and broad range, and its members are some of the leading musicians in the wider musical activities of the University.
The Director of Music is assisted by two undergraduate Organ Scholars, who receive lessons in organ studies, choral conducting, and singing.
A choral version of the college grace, composed by Alexander Butt, can be listened to here.
The majority of the Choir is made up of undergraduate Choral Scholars. The selection process for Choral and Organ Scholarships is centrally organised, with auditions and interviews being conducted in mid-September. Choral candidates are required to return in December for the selection process for an academic place. More information can be found at the Music Faculty website.
A University Open Day for those considering applying for a Choral or Organ Scholarship is held annually in April (further details can be found on the Music Faculty website). We are also very happy for potential applicants to visit on an informal basis, and may be able to arrange for you to sing with the choir during your visit. Similarly, we are very happy to consider visits by schools or youth choirs. Please contact the Director of Music for further information.
Postgraduate students who wish to apply for a Choral Scholarship are generally advised to contact the Director of Music once they have been accepted to the University.
The Director of Music, Prof Edward Higginbottom, is assisted by two undergraduate Organ Scholars. Organ scholars receive lessons in organ studies, choral conducting, and singing from Stephen Farr, Paul Spicer, and Nicholas Warden respectively. The Chapel of St Peter’s College is one of Oxford’s largest and most versatile performing spaces, accommodating large-scale orchestral and choral performances without difficulty. The 1875 Father Willis organ is complemented by a chamber organ built by Nicholson of Worcester in 2012, a Goble harpsichord, and a Blüthner grand piano.
The Chapel Choir consists of Choral Scholars and other singers from within the college and outside admitted through audition. There are presently eight awards available each year with no restrictions as to voice type and additional awards are made to singers of sufficient merit. Choral Scholars sing in the two weekly services (Evensong on Sundays and Thursdays during full term) and play a leading role in the musical life of the college. The Choir is administered and directed by the Organ Scholars working under the general supervision of the Director of Music, with whom they share responsibility for services, concerts and tours. The college has strong historic links with Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, which was also founded by Bishop Francis James Chavasse, and there are regular exchange visits between members.
The Allen Senior Organ Scholarship is to the value of £500, and the Siraj Singh Kandhari Junior Organ Scholar receives £300. The first is named in recognition of Dr Roger and Mrs Pamela Allen and the latter in recognition of alumni Mr Harjeev Kandhari. St Peter’s normally expects to elect an Organ Scholar in alternate years but this may vary according to circumstances. The college will normally only elect an Organ Scholar to read Music, but applications for Choral Scholarships are welcome from across the disciplines. For further information on how to apply, please click here.
The Director of Music welcomes enquiries from prospective candidates at any time. For more information or to arrange a visit contact the Director of Music, St Peter’s College, Oxford. OX1 2DL.
Allen Senior Organ Scholar
Andrej started at St Peter's in October 2018. In his gap year he worked as Organist in Residence in Pangbourne College and deputy accompanist at the Pangbourne Choral society, with which he played continuo in the Mozart Requiem and Vespers, as well as an excerpt from the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 21.
From 2015-2017 he studied at Pangbourne College as a Music Scholar, prior to which he attended the Third Belgrade Gymnasium.
Siraj Singh Kandhari Junior Organ Scholar
Stanley started at St Peter's in October 2019. Since 2017 he has also been Assistant Director of Music, having played the organ since the age of 10, and Organ Scholar at Bourne Abbey Parish Church, helping to run the musical provision of the church alongside giving annual recitals.
From 2012 to 2017 he studied piano at the Royal Birmingham Junior Conservatoire alongside academic studies at Bourne Grammar School, as well as studying organ with Robert Gower.
St Peter’s College Chapel is fortunate in that it still possesses its original organ, built by ‘Father’ Henry Willis in 1875, just as he was rising to the height of his fame with instruments such as those for the Royal Albert Hall and the Alexandra Palace.
It was subsequently slightly enlarged in 1889 by a local builder, Martin of Oxford, who added an open metal stop to the pedal division. Otherwise, the quality and durability of Willis’s original craftsmanship ensured that it served the worship in the Church of St Peter-le-Bailey (subsequently St Peter’s College Chapel) for the next hundred years.
By the year 2000, the instrument had fallen into disuse and needed substantial repair. In view of its considerable artistic significance, the decision was taken to rebuild, and, in 2003, it was completely restored by Nicholson of Worcester in an appropriate historical manner.
The original tracker action is in place, the refurbishment of the pipework carefully retained the original Willis voicing, and the original pitch-pine finish of the casework and console was painstakingly reclaimed. Even the hand blowing equipment was restored to full working order.
The only problem encountered was that the original Willis stool was inadequate for organ scholars (and Tutors) of varying shapes and sizes. Nicholson’s therefore made a brand new adjustable stool in pitch pine to match the console, while the original Willis stool was retained in the organ loft to provide additional seating and shelf space.
Through its Founder, Francis Chavasse, St Peter’s has strong links with Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and the Cathedral Organist, Professor Ian Tracey, gave the opening recital in September 2003 to great acclaim.
In spite of its modest size, the organ has all the characteristic tonal vigour and subtlety of Willis’ larger instruments (e.g. Hereford, Salisbury and Truro Cathedrals): the great chorus is bright without being in any way strident, the flutes are clear and the swell fluework is topped by fiery reeds in the typical Willis fashion.
The instrument is so skilfully voiced for the building that from the nave it gives the impression of being much larger than its modest tally of eighteen speaking stops. It is an ideal instrument for historically informed performance of the Anglican cathedral repertoire but is sufficiently versatile to cope with music from a wide variety of styles and periods.
A full specification of the organ can be downloaded here.
Hilary Term 2012 ended with two events to mark the dedication of the new Chamber Organ, generously donated by former Chaplain, Christopher Jones, and given in honour of Caroline and John Barron (Master of St Peter’s, 1991-2003).
On Sunday 4 March 2012, the Choir gave liturgical performances of Bach’s motet ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ (BWV 227), Cantatas ‘Vergnügte Ruh’ (BWV 170) and ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’ (BWV 12), with soloists Nicholas Clapton (Counter Tenor) and choir members Matthew Thomson (Tenor) and Neil McCleery (Bass).
The obbligato and continuo organ parts were played by former Organ Scholar Lewis Brito-Babapulle (Organist elect of Stowe School) and the then Senior Organ Scholar, Theo Lester. The Junior Organ Scholar, David Quinn, conducted the Motet. Former Choir member, Marissa Pueschel, played the oboe obbligato in Cantata 12.
The Chamber Organ was designed and built by Nicholson’s to complement the chapel’s renowned 'Father' Henry Willis instrument (1875). It was first used in a service at the final evensong of term to accompany Gibbons’ Second Service. It is also an ideal instrument for continuo work and the performance of a wide variety of early organ music.