funded by the AHRB [now AHRC]

inside Wells Cathedral The purpose of the research was to clarify and understand better how the musical culture of a cathedral choir impacts on the musical development and performance of its female choristers with regard to an 'appropriate' sound. In particular, the proposed research sought to explore how the female choristers' experiences (including rehearsals and performances) shaped their musical behaviours and identities.

In accordance with the intended research methodology, three short intensive visits were made to Wells Cathedral in Somerset during the twelve-month period of the award. The prime elements of the research methodology were qualitative (through observation, semi-structured interviews, analysis of printed materials (such as music and service schedules)) and quantitative (different sets of acoustic recordings of singing behaviours in (a) the interview setting (a vacant practice room in Wells Cathedral School), (b) rehearsal spaces (the Cathedral Undercroft, Cloister and Nave), and (c) performance at Evensong. A senior research colleague with significant experience in the application of music technology provided assistance with the recordings and with the (ongoing) acoustic analyses.

Opportunity was taken during each visit to speak to individuals and small groups of female choristers, as well as significant adults, such as the cathedral organist and adult male singers from the choir (the 'Vicars Choral'), plus others with responsibility for the general welfare of the choristers (such as the Head of School). The participant choristers represented two overlapping populations because the research visits spanned two school academic years (2001/2002 and 2002/2003) and there is always some change of chorister personnel at the end of each summer term.

Across the year, (i) fifty-two individual female chorister recordings were made, each following an established protocol (see below); (ii) 23 hours were spent observing choristers singing in rehearsals, services and individually and (iii) an additional 15.5 hours was spent in interviews.

The research formed part of a unique, ongoing longitudinal study of female chorister development at Wells, now (2018) in its 19th year.

project team...

  • Professor Graham Welch, IoE
  • Professor David Howard, University of York

selected project public output...

project contact details...