All children are admitted to the Choir as ‘Probationers’. There are usually four probationers at any one time. In the period before becoming Choristers (which is usually a full academic year), the children are, in the main, taught separately from the rest of the Choir. Under the tutelage of the Organ scholars, overseen by the College’s Director of Music, they learn the basics of vocal technique and how to sight-read, and are gradually and carefully introduced to the Evensong service. They also learn how to pronounce Latin, which is no mean feat at that age.
It is important for the Probationers to be gently introduced to the demands of Choristership and to their new life in the school, so they attend rehearsals of the full Choir, and Evensong in Chapel, only twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in the first two terms, and three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, in the Summer term. They are free every weekend and are not required for recordings, concerts, broadcasts or for touring. Parents are also free to see their child in the course of the week by arrangement with the Housemaster, Mr Matthew Cobb, if this is deemed to be in a child’s best interests. Probationers who choose to stay on at the weekends are included in the Saturday morning arrangements involving Choir practice and instrumental practice, but do not usually attend Saturday Evensong. Those not on leave-out on Sunday will attend the Sunday morning Eucharist with the other boarders.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays (and, eventually, Fridays), the Probationers take part in the rehearsal and ‘shadow’ the choir in the Chapel; Probationers follow the Service without singing, from the choir stalls, wearing their cassocks.
Before taking up a Chorister position, it is almost certain that the Probationers will have been asked to sing with the Choir on a number of occasions as part of their induction. Sometimes, a Probationer may join the Choir before the probationary year is completed. However, a Probationer can only proceed to a full Choristership if the College Director of Music and Headmaster are satisfied that he will cope.
Very occasionally, the College Director of Music or Headmaster is unable to allow a Probationer to become a Chorister. In such rare cases, the Director of Music will have discussed a child’s vocal and choral progress with parents on a number of occasions before reaching a decision that it would not be in a child’s best interests to proceed or the Headmaster will have raised concerns relating to the child’s ability to cope with the demands of the choir.
Early in the Michaelmas Term of each year, there is an event organised for Probationer parents at which parents are given a tour of the College and are encouraged to raise any questions over a cup of tea with the Director of Music.
The Director of Music is always willing to meet with parents to discuss any child’s progress and welfare and, for probationer parents, formal review meetings take place with the Director of Music over the course of the year. In general, of course, the news is highly positive and simply confirms that which will already have been communicated informally to parents on the many occasions when they have been in the Chapel or the school.