King’s is more than Christmas

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by Yvette Day, Head and Master over the Choristers at King’s College School, Cambridge

In the fifteenth century, King’s Choristers were provided with meals and clothing, and eight pence a week for their board. Things have certainly changed since then!

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Today King’s Choristers are recognised all over the world, perhaps largely due to the iconic Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which is broadcast live from King’s College Chapel on Christmas Eve. But that moment at 3 pm on 24 December, when the world tunes in as they prepare for Christmas, is a fleeting glimpse of an experience that is so much bigger and life-changing for the children who sing in the choir. We really don’t sing carols all the time. At King’s College School we provide children with a lifestyle that supports and encourages excellence. 

Steeped in tradition

There is no doubting that choristers have an unparalleled musical education steeped in tradition. They are educated at King’s College School, which grew from the foundations provided by King Henry VI, and is just across the river and a few minutes’ walk from King’s College Chapel, where they sing in services throughout the year. It is a life of full immersion – as well as going to school here, for much of the time they live here too.

Just as singing is very much at our heart, so too is boarding. The fact that some choristers at King’s board informs the way we look at all aspects of possibility and opportunity for children. In my experience, I believe this to be the real strength of boarding. Boarding empowers (and trusts) children to pursue their talents and goals to the highest levels of excellence. For choristers who are not part of the boarding house, the same expectations apply. The school day is long and purposeful, creative and varied. Children learn to be organised and to work to targets and they are encouraged to have a voice!

For King’s Choristers there is a very well-defined daily schedule. As with any high-level pursuit in sport, instrumental study, dance, or art, rigorous preparation, practice and attention to detail in the development process underpin success. The magic that is beamed to the world on Christmas Eve does not happen without years of training.

The boarding experience offers support in developing a child’s sense of ownership of their own learning and life experience. Of course there must be scaffolding: care, kindness, trust, challenge, support and understanding. Staff are always around to share the joys and occasional struggles of life – or just for a chat at the end of the day.

For King’s Choristers there is a very well-defined daily schedule

Home from home

At King’s College School we seek to create a home-from-home environment in which all pupils are safe, happy and able to flourish in both work and play. There is help on hand with prep sessions as well as with music practice, and a wide range of activities is on offer to fill free time. The extensive school grounds and facilities can be enjoyed when the school quietens at the end of the working day – the summer months are punctuated by barbeques and evening swims.

Choristers from King’s may go on to Eton, Harrow, King’s Ely, The Leys, Oundle, Rugby, Uppingham and Winchester, among others. Some go on to attend day schools. Whichever route they take, at 13 they already know so much about themselves and how the part they play in a community really does affect their own experience of life, with the add-on that they have also been part of a pretty extraordinary team!

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