St John's Cambridge to welcome female singers from 2022

Monday, October 25, 2021

Director of Music Andrew Nethsingha introduces a major step for equality of gender in choral singing

Andrew Nethsingha, Director of Music, who is leading the change
Andrew Nethsingha, Director of Music, who is leading the change

In a major move for equality of gender in choral singing, St John’s College, Cambridge has announced that both girl choristers and female undergraduates will join the choir from 2022.

St John’s is one of the world’s leading collegiate choirs, a beacon of choral excellence, and of both tradition and innovation, whether on record, online, through broadcasts and of course through daily services in the college chapel. Founded in the 1670s, the choir consists of around 20 choristers drawn from St John’s College School, who join from the age of eight, and around 16 adult choral scholars who are largely students at St John's College. These are currently all male.

While there are choirs in Cambridge with female choristers – including Pembroke and St Catharine’s – and many with women adults, there are none with both. The total number of St John's choristers will increase from 20 to 25, and given that new choristers enter the choir aged around 8 years, it will be four or five years before all five year-groups of the choir contain both boys and girls.

According to a statement from the college, the move was spearheaded by Andrew Nethsingha, Director of Music for 14 years, who cites the opportunity to expand the reach of the transformative training and experience that collegiate singers receive.

‘Providing an opportunity for girls and women to sing as members of The Choir of St John’s is a very exciting development for the choral tradition of the College. Choral singing is a specialised art form, and our choir has played a formative role in the careers of many globally recognised musicians. Extending membership to talented female singers creates an exceptional new musical opportunity for women and girls.’

‘I hope this small step will bring the day closer when there is gender equality amongst composers, organists and conductors, as well as among politicians, business leaders and in all other walks of life,’ added Nethsingha.

Heather Hancock, Master of St John’s College, said: ‘Being a member of the choir provides participants with an outstanding choral education and vocal training. The College is delighted to support our exceptional Director of Music, Andrew Nethsingha, as he recruits women and girls, as well as men and boys, to become members of the choir. This pioneering step will continue the distinctive tradition of choral excellence at St John’s and honours the College’s overarching commitment to equality.’

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