Life as a Chorister at St. Paul’s

Dominic Percival (aged 12) tells us what life is like for a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Dominic Percival It all started when my dad (Rev. James Percival) went to do an evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral with the Sanderstead Singers. My sister Eliza and I went up with my mum to hear it. At the end, my sister decided that she needed the loo and one of the canons (Bishop Michael Colclough), who my parents were talking to, invited us round to his house in Amen Court. He was the one who first suggested my being a chorister. I already sang in our church choir and I quite liked the idea of it and therefore nagged my parents all the way down Cannon Street (now known to my parents as “Can-I-do-it street”!).

I started at St Paul’s Cathedral School in September 2009 (after passing two voice trials and a school test to be offered a choral scholarship) when I was nearly 8. At the same time I took up the cornet and carried on with the piano. I spent a year as a probationer and got made up to a full chorister around the same time in the following year.

As a chorister you do a lot of work. A normal day involves getting up at 7, showering, having breakfast at 7.20 and then at 7.40 going over for an hour’s rehearsal. Following a normal school day and a snack, you go over at 4 for rehearsal before Evensong at 5 which usually goes on for around 45 minutes. Then you have supper and an opportunity to phone home [not often taken! – parental note]. In the evening you do some music practice and two preps then have some free time. Lights out for the older choristers is at 9 after twenty minutes’ reading. We do about 18 hours’ singing each week.

Music lessons happen during the school day as do ensembles and bands. On a Thursday morning (our day off singing) we have an orchestra rehearsal and often sports matches in the afternoon. Each year group has a games afternoon where we go to Battersea Park and train. In the first term we play football, in the second hockey and in the third, cricket.

St Paul’s Cathedral School is housed in these buildings in the cathedral precincts.

St Paul’s Cathedral School is housed in these buildings in the cathedral precincts.

Some of the highlights from my time at St Paul’s have been the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, the OBE service (which happens every four years) and annual celebrations around Easter and Christmas such as Handel’s Messiah, St John Passion, A Celebration of Christmas (with a wide range of beautiful Christmassy music) and finally (probably my favourite event of the year) the Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten. This is for three treble parts with solos in (one of which I had last year) accompanied by harp which makes it very special. Midnight mass is always a very poignant service too with queues that often go twice around the Cathedral! Being in the choir has been a wonderful experience and I have made lots of good friends.

When your voice starts changing (like mine), although you can still board, you cannot carry on singing in the choir. In my informal valediction, I carried the cross in and out and was mentioned in the prayers. Now I have more time to do other things, I am taking up the organ, which should be fun!

Dominic Percival is the son of the Rector of St. Peter’s Limpsfield in Surrey. This article is an edited version of one which first appeared in the Limpsfield Parish Magazine.