Angelic Voices – The Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral

Documentary following an academic year in the life of the young choristers at Salisbury Cathedral – established in 1091 it is one of the oldest choirs in England and one of only 39 choir schools in the country. There are two choirs – the traditional boys only but also a girls choir. The girls choir was set up in 1991 making it the first of it’s kind, and even now, it is evident that it still struggles for acceptance.

The children are aged 8-13, and work 16 hours a week on top of their school work. They are all    given a choristership (subsidised private education) at Salisbury Cathedral School, a £6,400 per term school, many of them boarding there in order that they can take part in the weekend services. They get up before the rest of the school to practice at 7:50 in the mornings before class begins and also do evening services. They are given one weekend a term off.

The programme also documents the history of the choir, from it’s founding soon after 1066, and it’s origins in the old cathedral, where young boys worked as servants to the bishops and deans foremostly, right up to the present day. It also focuses on the music, how it developed from plainsong, taught to the native Anglo-Saxons, to the complexities of the beautiful modern pieces.

The history of the difficulties faced by early choirboys, first as servants and then as greatly sought-after items, bought for huge sums by Cathedrals and sometimes even kidnapped, is contrasted against images of the children now, playing cricket in their pyjamas and enjoying the improvisation in Jazz Band. The difficult times when Catholicism was being renounced, evident from the blacked out passages in old prayer books, is contrasted with the rejoicing songs of the choir today.

The friendships of the choir members are strong, despite their constant competing with each other, for solos or for the respected role of Bishop’s and Dean’s chorister, the boys and girls head of choir positions respectively. It is clear how very much a part of your life the choir becomes, as the eldest members choke back tears in their last service.

“Angelic Voices” was shown on BBC4 on Friday 18th January 2013. It is available on BBC iPlayer until next Friday (25th). 90 minutes.

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