Our unique choral programme is making an impact in cathedrals and professional concert halls throughout the UK, bringing a new approach to the traditional model of choral training. Now in its sixth year, the Academia Musica Choir which began as an ambitious scholarship training programme for maintained sector sixth form students is now thriving as a semi-professional ensemble, modelled on similar programmes at Oxford and Cambridge University. It was initially designed by Director of Music, Aryan O. Arji (formerly of King’s College Choir) to prepare scholars for the best cathedral and university choral scholarships, but very quickly gained momentum as one of the up and coming choral ensembles and now performs on the London concert stage, most recently with the English Symphony Orchestra, the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge and members of the University of Cambridge Baroque Ensemble at venues such as St John’s, Smith Square.
The Academia Musica scholars, who receive advanced choral training at Hereford Sixth Form College, have seemingly done the impossible. In efficiently directing its resources to the expectations of universities and the industry, the College has developed a training programme within the maintained sixth form college sector that has been lauded by universities and professional musicians as an exceptional programme that is holding its own alongside traditional models of private school choral foundations.
"We are talking serious professional quality here."
Good Schools Guide, 2014
The programme is unique in the maintained sector in that it provides rigorous choral instruction, similar to that found at some of the best independent schools, free to students from a wide range of backgrounds. The programme includes timetabled choral training that is planned into the scholars’ weekly timetable alongside their A-Level subjects. The choir trains with the Director of Music and Musicians in Residence, professional musicians who perform with the choir and work as ‘lay-clerk style’ mentors to the scholars. The standards established by universities and professional choirs are expected of the scholars in every session. The choir’s repertoire is vast, spanning large-scale works such as works by J. S. Bach (including the B Minor Mass and the Passions), the ten-part Stabat Mater by Scarlatti, in addition to the mainstay items of the best cathedral choir output, such as Walton’s The Twelve, and Howells Take Him Earth for Cherishing. Scholars have free individual lessons with the Head of Vocal Studies and access to advanced Music Theory training that leads well beyond any expectations of the standard A-Level courses, often including university level qualifications such as the ATCL performance examination and the AMusTCL written diploma.
The choir sings weekly evensongs in British Cathedrals and has a recording contract with Priory Records. Their next album concludes their series of the collected vernacular works of John Sheppard. The choir tours both nationally and internationally and has worked with professional ensembles such as the English Symphony Orchestra and Directors of Music from conservatoires and selective universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.
Julian Lloyd Webber has given his support to the project: “More and more people are realising the power that music has to bring people and communities together, so it is wonderful that Hereford has such a facility on its doorstep.” Scholars are routinely offered places at some of the best universities and conservatoires, including Cambridge University.
The choir recently performed a series of Passiontide concerts, culminating in another Westminster performance in St John’s, Smith Square, London and which included sublime works, such as the Allegri, Miserere and the Scarlatti, Stabat Mater. The choir is excited by its relationship with the English Symphony Orchestra and is currently preparing for a number of large-scale oratorio performances.
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