More children to reap benefits of Cathedral Choristership in Ely

May 17, 2021

Choristership at Ely Cathedral is evolving to allow equal opportunities for boys and girls – and to enable more children and young people with a love of singing to get involved.

King’s Ely has educated the choristers of Ely Cathedral for over 1,000 years and joining the Cathedral Choir continues to be a popular choice today for both girls and boys. However, several changes that have been agreed jointly by the School and the Cathedral, and which will take place over the next 18 months, will help open the choristership door to more young singers, as well as bring regimes in line with many other UK Cathedrals, such as Durham, Salisbury, York and Wells.

From September 2022, boys and girls in the Cathedral Choir will enjoy complete parity of workload and recognition. They will sing an equal number of services each week and will receive an identical percentage fee award throughout their time in the Choir. The age range of each Choir will remain the same: boys will sing between Years 3 and 8, and girls between Years 7 and 11. Year 11 girls will continue to take a significant break from all chorister duties during the summer GCSE examination session. This change places Ely in the vanguard of a national trend alongside Gloucester, Worcester and Llandaff Cathedrals. Many Cathedrals, with and without Choir Schools, have operated this model with great success for many years.

In another major change, from September 2021, it will no longer be compulsory for girl and boy choristers to board at King’s Ely; all will be able to attend the School as day pupils. Full and flexi-boarding provision will of course continue, as it is such a unique and special part of chorister life. However, the requirement for members of the Cathedral Choir to board is an aspect of choristership which has evolved in recent years, with all trebles enjoying much greater flexibility. King’s Ely and the Cathedral believe that opening the Choirs to day pupils is crucial in ensuring its long-term viability.

From September 2022, all new choristers will also receive an award of 40 per cent of the relevant day fee in each section (Junior or Senior, as appropriate). The new award is among the most generous made by any Cathedral in the country, and will allow the Cathedral and School greater flexibility to award additional means-tested bursaries to families who would otherwise be prevented from taking up chorister places; in particular those who require boarding for this to be possible.

Edmund Aldhouse, Director of Music at Ely Cathedral, said: “Today’s announcement opens the door to a secure future for choristership at Ely, maintaining the long heritage and tradition which we treasure, while at the same time creating new opportunities for a fresh generation of young singers. I know first-hand the joy and sense of achievement that singing in a Cathedral Choir can bring, and the life-enhancing effect it has, and I am proud to be involved in ensuring that this opportunity is available equally to girls and boys from now on.”

Sarah MacDonald, Director of the Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral Choir, said: “I am thrilled by this important development in the music at Ely, which will ensure that it continues to flourish and thrive for many years to come. The experience of Cathedral Choristership provides children with an unrivalled education in musicianship, performance, discipline, reliability, and self-confidence. The Cathedral and King’s Ely are committed to ensuring that this training is available equally to girls and boys from as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible. Cathedral music-making always involves a judicious reconciling of tradition and innovation, and I am honoured to be part of a team which understands this and places such value on both music and education.”

The choristers’ morning rehearsal schedule will remain unchanged. All choristers will be involved in Cathedral services every Christmas and Easter. Girls and boys will continue to combine for major festivals and events, as they have in the past. Sixth Form Choral Scholars will continue to form an important part of the Cathedral Choir.

This change represents true equality of opportunity for both sets of choristers. Although it may not be apparent at first, it will mean only a very slight reduction in the total number of services sung by the boys over the year with better distribution of workload. The girls will be singing more services, but again much more evenly distributed than has previously been the case.

John Attwater, Principal of King’s Ely, said: This announcement, coming as it does as Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday, completes the vision of its founders of enabling girls and boys to have equal opportunity in leading the musical worship of our wonderful Cathedral. Cathedral Choristership is the best musical education in the world and we are delighted that the developments announced today mean that, together, King’s Ely and Ely Cathedral can offer that opportunity to many more children from all backgrounds.

The Very Reverend Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely, said: “I am very pleased and excited by the evolving patterns for the Cathedral Choir that we have agreed. I really want to make the wonderful opportunity to be a chorister available equally to boys and girls, and to a wider number of people, and I believe that these developments will help us maintain this great choral tradition into the future.”

In addition to this exciting development, the School and Cathedral have organised two special ‘Taster Days’ to enable children to experience what life as a chorister is like. The event for boys is on Saturday 22 May and the event for girls is on Sunday 19 September. To book your child’s place or for more information, please visit: or

Photo credit: James Billings