The Rugby Choristers at Bilton Grange sang their inaugural service of Choral Evensong in Rugby School Chapel on Thursday 22 September 2022, having started rehearsals just two weeks earlier. From that standing start, the choristers went straight on to maintaining six choral services each week during term time across Bilton Grange and Rugby School Chapels.  

“The chorister programme has been fantastic for our son. He has always enjoyed singing and had thought that he just enjoyed singing by himself. Since joining the Rugby Choristers at Bilton Grange all that has changed. He has found other like-minded people who enjoy singing to the high standards that he aspires to reach and he has never been happier. It has been transformational for him.” 

By the end of its first year, the chorister programme, along with the brilliant Hands on Brass and Strings Programme at Bilton Grange pre-prep, was hailed as Winner in the Muddy Stilettos Best School Awards 2023 in the ‘Originality in teaching music and the arts’ category. 


There are currently 33 choristers in the programme, 18 boys and 15 girls. The Rugby Choristers at Bilton Grange regularly divides into four choirs: one of boys and one of girls for ages 7-13, a combined boys’ and girls’ choir for senior choristers (Years 6, 7 and 8) and, very occasionally all the choristers perform together. This enables the choristers to sing a very full schedule, without being overly demanding on any of them in terms of time commitment. 


Four services take place each week in Rugby School Chapel with the addition of professional lay clerk and student choral scholar altos, tenors and basses. Two evensongs are in Bilton Grange Chapel with just treble voices. Members of the public are welcome to attend services; information about when they are to take place, which choir is singing, and what music is to be sung can be found on the Rugby School website. 


Peter Green, former Executive Head Master, had the vision for this ambitious chorister programme following the merger of Bilton Grange Preparatory School and Rugby School. He wrote in the Church Times on 13 October 2023 that “we’ve added a further praying heart to the school. There is a lot more happening in the chapel.” 


There are no weekend commitments for the choristers, neither do they sing in school holidays. Choristerships are open to both day pupils and boarders with a variety of boarding options: full, flexi and weekly. Children can audition at any age up to Year 7, but it will be more usual to audition in Year 2 or 3. They spend up to a year as a Probationer learning the repertoire and gradually being introduced to the routine before being promoted to a full chorister where they are presented with their white cotta which is worn over their blue cassock. 

Benefits include: 

  • All choristers receive a choral scholarship of 5% fee remission at Bilton Grange, with the ability to apply for means tested bursaries to 100% 
  • Free tuition on two musical instruments 
  • Vocal coaching in groups and individually 
  • Opportunities to take part in concerts, tours, recordings and broadcasts 


Other tangible benefits include: 

  • Aspiring to excellence every day 
  • A sense of pride in the achievements of both individuals and the choir 
  • Increasing self confidence 
  • Opportunities for teamwork 
  • Working across different ages with older children helping their younger colleagues 
  • Working alongside adult singers and Rugby School Choral Scholars 
  • Transferable skills that have statistically been shown to be beneficial, regularly producing higher results than non-chorister students in music exams.  

“I enjoy the chance to take part in Services which our Parents can attend and see our progress. I enjoy the rigour involved in rehearsals and self-discipline which this requires. This has taught me a lot and has set me up very well for the next stage of my education. Collaborating with like-minded singers is really beneficial.” 


The schedule for recruiting new choristers begins with Chorister Experience Day in November. This is followed by Voice Trial Workshops in late November/December which give children and parents a guide as to what to expect in the actual Voice Trial. These take place in January and February leading to appointments to the choir by the end of the Lent Term to start the following September. 


Whilst many choristers will move on to Rugby School and join the excellent choral programme there, the first two years of the chorister programme have also seen choristers move to a variety of other outstanding schools, including Radley, Oundle, Uppingham and Shrewsbury. In the first two years of the programme, eight choristers have been awarded music scholarships to their new schools.  


The recruitment of professional adult singers to sing as the ‘back row’ at Rugby School Chapel services has drawn in some excellent musicians to inspire the choristers. These include singers who are also, or have been, members of groups such as Westminster Cathedral Choir, Southwark Cathedral Choir, The Sixteen and Tenebrae. Also singing in the pool of back row professional singers are a few members of staff at Rugby School who have previous experience as choral scholars in choirs such as King’s and St John’s Colleges in Cambridge. 


An unexpected bonus of the programme has been the opportunities for Rugby School students to sing in the back row as Choral Scholars. This experience has been invaluable for them as they contemplate applications for choral scholarships at university or broaden their horizons as performing arts scholars. This has been especially welcomed by ex-choristers who carry with them a treasure-trove of experiences of evensong. Advanced student organists have also benefitted from the opportunities to play for services which is invaluable preparation for future organ scholarship applications. 

Although the main outlet for the choristers to perform is singing choral evensong, Advent and Epiphany carol services have already become popular annual occasions. Their first concert appearance was at a celebration for King Charles’s Coronation in 2023, subsequently followed in May 2024 when the choristers teamed up with Rugby School Choral Society, dancers from Rugby School and Kings International Ballet Academy for a spectacular performance of Carmina Burana to a sold-out audience.  


In November 2023 the choristers travelled to Oxford for a collaboration with the girls’ choir of Merton College in which they sang choral Evensong under the direction of Dr Barry Rose OBE. Dr Rose was also the first composer to write a piece for the choristers, Palms of Glory, raiment bright. This composition featured in the first audio and video recordings by the choristers in April 2024. 


The choristers are very excited to be collaborating with Canzona, one of England’s leading ensembles specialising in the performance of baroque music on period instruments under the direction of Theresa Caudle, for a wonderful concert of music by Henry Purcell at The Festival on The Close. Conducted by Richard Tanner in the Temple Speech Room, the programme will include a performance of Purcell’s famous Te Deum. The concert will also feature Chaconny in G minor and well-known anthems by Purcell accompanied by period instruments including Rejoice in the Lord Alway, My Beloved Spake, O Sing Unto The Lord and Thy Word is a Lantern

Richard Tanner, Director of Music 

Rebecca Taylor, Deputy Director of Music 

Matthew Sandy, Head of Vocal Studies 

Ian Wicks, Head of Keyboard 

Philippa Hyde, Vocal Coach 

Mark Penrose, Director of Music, Bilton Grange 

Eva, Bilton Grange Music Gap Student 

Elizabeth Wicks, Chorister Liaison 

Sebastian and Benedict, Organ Scholars