BECOME AN 
ORGAN SCHOLAR

Exeter College is accepting applications for an organ scholar to begin in the 2022–23 academic year. Auditions will be held in September 2021 during the University-wide choral and organ trials. Further information about how to apply can be found here.

Exeter College Choir is the only chapel choir in Oxford or Cambridge to sing three choral services per week during term under the direction of a student organ scholar. As such, the post of Parry Wood Organ Scholar is a unique opportunity to not only develop skills in organ playing, but conducting, administration, programme building, and some fundraising — in short, it is the ideal place for one who wishes to pursue a career as an organist and choral conductor in the Anglican cathedral choral tradition.

The main responsibilities of the Organ Scholars are to maintain, direct, and manage one of the leading student-led choirs in the UK. This creates an exceptional opportunity to develop both organ playing and conducting skills. Other responsibilities involve choosing the music lists, organising tours and concerts (in recent years the choir has toured the East Coast of the United States of America, the Baltics, Croatia, and Malta and Sicily), running the weekly organ recital series during term, and auditioning new members. The Organ Scholars are also expected to foster the musical life of the College generally. In all matters, they are required to work closely with the Chaplain.

There are significant rewards for Organ Scholars, including:

  • A small honorarium.

  • Excellent accommodation in College for three years (with a piano). The very spacious Senior Organ Scholar’s ‘set’ comprises three rooms, including en suite bathroom.

  • Free dinners after every sung service (including Formal Hall on Sundays).

  • Organ, conducting, and singing lessons paid for by the College.

  • Additional payment for weddings, baptisms and occasional services.

  • Practice and performance opportunities on the Walker organ.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a typical week of an organ scholar at Exeter College look like?

In addition to the usual schedule of tutorials and lectures, services are held in the evenings on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, with rehearsals beforehand. There is also a midweek rehearsal on Wednesday nights, and there is a weekly meeting of the organ scholars and chaplain. The organ scholars are also responsible for organising the weekly organ recital series on Tuesdays at 1.10 PM, and of course should spend an appropriate amount of time practising and doing score study.

What sort of services does the choir sing?

The most frequent service is choral evensong, for which the choir prepares settings of the preces and responses, evening canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis), an anthem, hymns, and psalms (Anglican chant and plainchant). The Choir also sings choral eucharists, which involves preparing a setting of the Mass Ordinary (Kyrie/Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). Occasionally there is a special service such as lessons and carols, the office of compline (choral night prayer), and even services unique to Oxford and Cambridge Universities, such as Commemoration of Benefactors.

Who conducts and who plays the organ?

There are two organ scholars at Exeter College. The senior (called the 'Parry Wood Organ Scholar') conducts the choir while the junior plays the organ (all accompaniments to choral music, hymns, and solo organ works called 'voluntaries'). During the senior's final year and junior's second year, the conducting/playing workload is shared between the two, based on the needs of the individual award holders.

How do organ scholars balance academic work with running the chapel music programme?

It can be difficult! The key thing is to prepare in advance as much as possible. Part of being a church musician in the Anglican tradition is based on building strong keyboard and aural skills, such as sight-reading and singing, score analysis, and becoming familiar with the repertoire. Most organ scholars at Exeter read music (though that isn't required), which helps inform their work on the chapel music programme.

What exactly are organ scholars responsible for, and what sort of support can they expect?

In short, Exeter College organ scholars function as directors of music. They are responsible for recruiting the choir, choosing repertoire, rehearsing, preparing music, helping build the choir music library, organising the organ recital series, helping organise the annual international choir tour, concerts, and CD projects. It's a lot of work, but there is a great deal of support. The choir is entirely student-run, and has its own student librarian, treasurer (who also helps organise the choir tour), social media officer (who helps with recruiting), social secretaries (who foster the social life of the choir), and sound engineering scholar (who oversees live-streaming of services and organ recitals and the choir's web presence). The Chaplain is also a great source of knowledge about Anglican liturgy and theology, and gives guidance on how these intersect with music. Organ scholars also receive regular lessons in organ playing, choral conducting, and singing. It's a supportive environment, but it's also very intense, and a good deal of independent study and work is expected and required.

Do organ scholars need to read music?

No, they can read any subject.

How does the application and University admissions process work?

Prospective organ scholars should apply to the University of Oxford's central organ and choral awards here. They then audition in September 2021 — in the morning with organ playing, and in the afternoon with conducting a small group of professional singers. They are also interviewed by the Chaplain and several other members of the College. From there, candidates must also apply for admission to the University later in the year; if accepted to the University, then the applicant will also be recommended for an organ scholarship.

If you have other questions that haven't been answered here, please write organ.scholar@exeter.ox.ac.uk, and one of the current organ scholars will be happy to reply.