Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header



Periodo di rendicontazione: 2016-09-01 al 2017-08-31

The Oxford collegiate choral tradition reaches as far back as 10th century AC, following a tradition of cathedral choirs with 1400 years of history. Sacred music has played a predominant role in the Anglican collegiate chapels, where the ‘gown’ (students) in the collegiate choirs sing for the ‘town’ (inhabitants of Oxford city) and in recent years, growing number of tourists. Furthermore, many independent choirs and music societies provide performance opportunities for students and staff. Today, University of Oxford and its colleges and halls consist of people of all genders; however, this oldest university in the English-speaking world is historically a male-oriented dominion. Until 1850, the university and the colleges were primarily a monastery-like religious institutions where fellows (all men) were forbidden to marry and expected to live in celibacy and excluded women as fellows and students until 1920 (The History of the University of Oxford, 1994).

The Oxford colleges were originally established to distinguish the ‘gown’ from the ‘town’ (Lee De-Amici, 1999, p. v; The History of University of Oxford). Hence, the musical life at Oxford colleges and halls reflected its socio-demographic context and thus affected by the Anglican choral tradition, historically predominantly (and exclusively) male-oriented, with men in the back rows (tenors, basses and counter tenors) and a boy treble line in the front rows (Harrison, Welch & Adler, 2012). As a result, the presence of women in Oxford colleges and halls is a relatively recent phenomenon.

This project is focused on the collegiate choirs with three main aspects in mind:
1) The traditional form of men in the back rows and boys in the front rows dates back 1400 years and the all-male choir is considered (by some) as a cultural institution that should be preserved. Within the Church of England, choristerships were only available to boys (aged 6-13) until early 1990s. The arrival of girl trebles was by some considered threat to the traditional male-voice choral sound (Mould, 2007, p. 268-268).

2) The aspect of gender politics and equal opportunities: Girls are still not permitted to join the three choral foundations (Christ Church, Magdalen and New) and the choral foundations seem to be perceived as the most prestigious choirs in terms of musical quality and international reputation. This is linked to the historical context and perspective of preservation, economic aspect (access to funding and perks and benefits / salaries for the singers), administrative and cultural policy issues, competition in terms of musical talent and the politics of vocal auditions.

3) The socio-economic perspective: The demography of UK students at Oxford demonstrates that around 45% are private school educated (compared to 7% of all pupils in UK). State schools have in the last decades been forced to decrease options for their students in terms of music education. Hence, private school educated students are better equipped obtain choral scholarships or lay clerkships. This development indicates that scholarships and choral opportunities in Oxford, Cambridge and English cathedrals might be less available to students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and be an increasing elitist venue.

The purpose of this project is to raise an awareness of the unique historic collegiate choral tradition in Oxford as a cultural phenomenon. In addition, this project will provide a useful insight for policy makers regarding the importance of access to music education on all school levels.
This project consisted of an extensive data collection. 15 individual interviews with choir members from 7 choirs (that were chosen according to criteria in terms of auditions, availability of choral scholarships, lay clerkships and other paid positions, access of all genders to choral positions etc.) were conducted, as well as 8 members of staff. Furthermore, a paper-based survey was conducted among 16 choirs (population 30 choirs) that agreed to participate. The findings derived from the data collected form the results and deliverables of this project. Dissemination of the project took place on social media and academic dissemination through conference presentations and guest lectures and publications. Training and transfer of knowledge played a key part in order to acquire transferable skills in terms of project management, research management, Survey Design, Funding landscape for Early and Mid-Career Researchers and other applicable training; personal and professional development (such as how to deal with impostor syndrome and emotions and resilience at work) and public dissemination (how to turn a research into a radio programme and engaging media communications for academics). Furthermore, I took part in Faculty teaching and supervision activities. The overall experience of project was very useful, and I will benefit from it in my development as an academic and as a professional, in terms of networking, training and conducting a high-level research in a prestigious academic institution.
Dissemination and exploitation will proceed after the project period is over, particularly in relation to the on-going development of this project – during the project period, dissemination occurred on 3 platforms:
A) Academic dissemination through e conference presentations and 4 guest lectures in 4 European countries
B) Dissemination to stakeholders of the project and public dissemination: As a response to participants’ request of having access to the results of the survey, a draft of statistics report will be launched to stakeholders no later than end of January 2018, followed by a wide public dissemination through social media and non-academic publication
C) Dissemination through academic publication. According to the project plan, the final deliverables of the project consist of the following: I) A journal article submitted to the journal Music Education Research (Taylor & Francis). II) A book proposal submitted to Oxford University Press. The proposed title for the book is ‘I was a choral scholar in Oxford’: A collegiate choral tradition in the city of the dreaming spires.

Stakeholders of this project are:
A) Academic staff who deal with policy and decision making within Oxford Colleges and Halls; particularly colleges with a rich choral tradition
B) Music directors and church musicians
C) Organ scholars and future church musicians / directors
C) Present members of collegiate choirs
D) University alumni; particularly former members of the collegiate choirs
E) Policy makers (in terms of funding to music education)
F) Amateur choral singers and public readers
G) Music directors, academics in interdisciplinary music studies and other related disciplines

For exploitation, the findings of this project will serve as a contribution to strategic actions for Oxford colleges and halls, and other academic institutions throughout Europe for future policy making in terms of extracurricular musical activities. Furthermore, the project will provide some useful aspects regarding music education in schools in general, especially at the level of informal, extra-curricular music education for educational and cultural policy makers (both within EU and on national level in UK)
The collegiate life at Oxford - view over the Radcliffe Camera