Sherborne Choral Course

The inaugural Sherborne Choral Course is running from 21-28 July 2019. Join promising young singers and musicians from across the country for a week in the beautiful Dorset town of Sherborne. Sing Choral Evensong in the historic Abbey, and receive expert tuition in a school renowned for its musical tradition, with access to first-rate facilities and three stunning organs.

Work with composers and conductors John Rutter CBE and Bob Chilcott, refining your technique and enhancing your application for a university choral or organ scholarship.

The Sherborne Choral Course is an opportunity not to be missed. Open to anyone aged 15 to 18, it attracts some of the country’s finest young vocal talent.

Places cost £650, including all accommodation and meals. Assistance with costs is available on application and is means tested. 

Book by 1st January 2019 for a 25% discount.

Steeped in musical tradition


Visitors to Sherborne can’t fail to notice the beautiful Benedictine Abbey standing at the very heart of the town. In its shadow are the historic buildings of Sherborne School – a prestigious boys’ boarding school with a strong choral tradition, playing a full part in the liturgical life of the church.

That makes it the perfect setting for a summer choral school that develops the talents of boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18. We attract a diverse group of attendees from a range of backgrounds, distinguished by their vocal excellence.

Sherborne is easily accessible by rail or road, with good links to London, the South West and the North of England. It is a town of modest proportions, but by no means lacking in vibrancy. Thanks to the presence of two high-profile boarding schools, it is a place of intellectual energy and cultural stimulation. Its pretty high street is close to the School campus, meaning ready access to cafés, shops and supermarkets.

Choral Course attendees stay in Sherborne School accommodation, with girls and boys in separate houses. Everyone eats in the excellent School refectory and enjoys access to our brilliant School facilities. A pastoral team is on hand throughout the week, providing care and support at every turn.

Sherborne is a wonderful home from home, boasting stunning architecture, a tangible sense of history, and a warm, friendly atmosphere. Along with the Abbey and our own School Chapel, there are few finer locations to expand your horizons and prepare for your future as a singer.

The Programme


Develop your talent and enhance your experience in choral singing

The Sherborne Choral Course offers a wonderful opportunity to sing evensong in an historic Abbey, working with some of the country’s leading composers and educationalists. Our programme is designed to nurture your talents, helping enhance your application for a university choral scholarship. Thanks to the residential nature of the course, you will learn from each other in a supportive yet stretching environment.

We’re attracting the very best young vocal talent in the country: people between the ages of 15 and 18 with a passion for music, a love of singing, and a desire to learn more about the Church’s choral tradition.

During the course of the week, you will:

  • Sing Evensong and a Eucharist in Sherborne Abbey and daily Compline in the School Chapel
  • Learn a new piece composed and conducted by John Rutter CBE
  • Work with the composer Bob Chilcott and Sherborne’s Director of Music James Henderson, as well as a team of specialist tutors and instrumentalists
  • Receive one-to-one singing tuition
  • Participate in barbershop and opera chorus workshops
  • Form friendships with your fellow singers, sharing tips and insights about applying for university choral scholarships


If you have a passion for music and a desire to take your singing further, the Sherborne Choral Course provides a wonderful experience that will live with you forever.


Evensong: Sing Choral Evensong in Sherborne Abbey

For lovers of church music, there can be few finer experiences than singing Evensong in an historic Abbey. In Sherborne, generations of monks and worshippers have observed the liturgical traditions of the Christian year, marking times and seasons through the rhythms of praise, thanksgiving and prayer.

If you are thinking of applying for a university choral scholarship, such a rhythm will become a key part of your life. Our Choral Course offers you the chance to sing Evensong in the Abbey over a number of days, learning new pieces for each service and helping to lead the congregation in its worship.

You’ll develop your skills in singing hymns, psalms, canticles, responses and anthems. You’ll develop your familiarity with the shape of the Evensong liturgy, ensuring you know how the different elements fit together, and that you can find your way around the service book with ease.


Compline in the School Chapel

In addition, we will sing Compline, or night prayer, in the School Chapel. This reflective service is a traditional way of ending the day, and provides a chance to sing quieter music that stills the soul and refreshes the spirit. Regardless of your religious views, it is a profound experience that you are sure to find deeply fulfilling.


Final Eucharist

The programme ends with a sung Eucharist in Sherborne Abbey, in which the choir will lead the liturgy and sing an introit and anthem. Those who wish to receive communion or a blessing are welcome to do so, but there is no expectation that course participants will be churchgoers. Whatever your experience of Christian worship, this is an occasion that will shape your understanding of the Church’s musical traditions, and help inform your application to a university choral scholarship.


Organs: About Sherborne’s Organs

Organists attending our Choral Course will have access to three wonderful instruments, all of which are imbued with a rich history.


Sherborne Abbey Organ

The organ in Sherborne Abbey is a much-celebrated example of the instrument Gray & Davison designed for the Great Exhibition in 1851. This particular organ was installed in 1856, and renovated in 1951 with a remote console being fitted by J W Walker & Sons. Bristol-based organ builder John Coulson performed a minor rebuild in 1971, and Kenneth Tickell & Company gave it an extensive overhaul in 2005/4.


Sherborne School Chapel Organ

The Chapel organ was rebuilt by Stephen Cooke in 2012, and is widely regarded as a more modest interpretation of the instrument constructed there by Dutch organ builder Sebastian F Blank in 1986.

Blank’s organ was intended to be a historical recreation of the organs favoured by composers like J S Bach and Buxtenhude in the eighteenth century. Cooke’s twenty-first century rebuild is a less brash affair: it has a more subtle tonality, while being repositioned to ensure greater audibility throughout the Chapel.


Chapel Virtual Organ

Also in Sherborne’s Chapel, the Hauptwerk virtual organ is a replica of the organ found in Hereford Cathedral. Located in a space large enough to accommodate 400 people, it is easy to recreate the feeling of playing in a cathedral or college chapel – providing a rich and deeply formational experience for those hoping to secure an organ scholarship at university.


Expert tuition for organists

Organ scholars on the Sherborne Choral Course will receive expert tuition from Professor Magnus Williamson, Professor of Early Music at the University of Newcastle.


Social Scene: Life Together

Attend the Sherborne Choral Course and you can be assured of an experience that will live long in the memory.


Finding common ground

Because we attract the brightest and best young vocalists from across the UK, you’ll enjoy the company of like-minded people: those who are hoping to secure university choral scholarships, who have a deep appreciation of sacred and secular choral music, and want to learn from experts to realise their potential as singers.

You’ll find plenty of common ground with the people you live, work, play and sing alongside throughout the week. It’s our experience that friendships spark soon after arrival on our beautiful campus, that there is a spirit of camaraderie among the group that is born from our shared love of music, and our common desire to excel.

What is more, if you are interested in applying for a choral scholarship, our course provides a chance to share advice, learn from others, and ascertain the standards against which you may be judged.


Time to relax

Sherborne’s location ensures there is plenty to see and do during moments of calm: the town is easily accessible from the School campus and has a number of popular coffee shops. We also have our own coffee shop, The Hub, which proves a popular haunt among our summer course participants.

Our pastoral team organises social events throughout the week that give everyone a chance to mix. Moreover, living with others in a boarding house undoubtedly enhances the whole Sherborne Choral Course experience, making it easy to form friendships.

And, when you want to simply relax and unwind, you can retire to your room or enjoy Sherborne’s stunning surroundings at your own pace.


Other highlights

A further feature of the Sherborne Choral Course is the chance to meet our expert tutors and conductors informally, to seek advice about university applications or learn more about their own careers. Given the calibre of our team, this is an opportunity not to be missed.

At the end of the week, participants are invited to put on an informal show, perhaps playing their own instruments, as a celebration of their time together in Sherborne. This is a light-hearted occasion, with an emphasis on fun, laughter and enjoyment for all (staff included!).  


Rehearsals: Practice makes perfect

Every musician knows that the key to success is practice. Without the painstaking attention to detail that is learned through faithful repetition of a piece of music, the performance will always be found wanting.



We make rehearsals a key part of the daily routine during Sherborne’s Choral Course. It is a part of our discipline as a choir that we practise together, finessing our performances and ensuring that we give the very best account of ourselves when the moment comes to sing in public.

When leading the congregation in a service like Choral Evensong, such a discipline becomes all-important. This act is not simply performance: it is a liturgical act, in which we hold responsibility with the priest for the worship of the people. This is a crucial feature of church music: by enshrining it in our Choral Course, we help prepare you for the life of a university choral scholar.



Soloists play an important role in bringing choral music alive. In both secular and sacred music, many arrangements rely on this device as a means of enhancing the performance – and many liturgical pieces make particular use of it.

We provide participants on the Sherborne Choral Course with a chance to perform solos. This will form a part of our rehearsal programme, and some will have the opportunity to be soloists in Choral Evensong in Sherborne Abbey or compline in the School Chapel.


Singing Lessons and workshops

While it is important to perfect our group performance, we also recognise the benefits of working individually or in small groups to finesse our vocal talents. To that end, we provide one-to-one tuition to every participant on the Sherborne Choral Course, as well as opportunities to participate in a variety of open sessions, including an opera chorus workshop and a barbershop workshop.

Such experiences broaden your range as a performer, enhancing your CV and, perhaps, inspiring you with a new musical tradition to explore.


Recording: Recording our performances 

For many musicians, the experience of being recorded is both exciting and anxiety inducing. That is what makes it such a good experience to gain while on the Sherborne Choral Course.

We record all of the Choral Evensongs performed during the Course, and other performances where relevant.

We have state-of-the-art recording equipment that produces professional-standard recordings. These will be shared among all course participants at the end of the week, meaning you can play them to your families and friends, showing them just what you have achieved.

As well as giving you a memento of your week at Sherborne, the recordings provide a chance to finesse performances, listening for areas of improvement and identifying elements that were especially successful.



FAQ's: Your Questions

We are always adding to the questions on this page, received from parents, teachers and potential participants on the Sherborne Choral Course. We hope that the answers below are of some help.

If you have a specific inquiry that is not covered here, please email or call 01935 810 517.


The Sherborne Choral Course will be the first time my son/daughter has stayed away from home. What will you do to help him/her settle in?

At Sherborne, we are well experienced in dealing with young people who are staying away from home for the first time. We have a sensitive and gifted pastoral team on hand to ease the transition, and the busy programme ensures there is little time to feel homesick. We find that creating opportunities for friendships to form, ensuring there is always a listening ear for concerns or problems, and offering a mix of mental and physical activity helps participants feel at home. Moreover, Sherborne is a welcoming community – a beautiful town and campus to stay in, especially among those with an appreciation of music and history.


Is there a doctor on site?

The School is located adjacent to the Yeatman Hospital which has a Minor Injuries Unit.   The Course has a trained first-aider to deal with any incidents that arise and will be able to make arrangements for course participants to see one of the town’s GPs should this be required.


Will I have to share a room?

No. All accommodation is in single rooms, in our comfortable and well-appointed boarding houses. Males and females will be accommodated in separate houses.


Is the food good?

Sherborne’s refectory is well regarded for the quality of its food, and regularly caters for conferences through the School holidays. Meals are of a quality you would expect in a hotel or restaurant.  Any food allergies should be communicated before the Course commences.


Do I have to be “churchy” to come on the course?

Not at all. While many of our participants are used to singing in church, and have an appreciation of sacred music, they are not all churchgoers. We welcome people of all backgrounds and beliefs who want to develop their vocal talents and realise their potential as singers.


Who should be my referee?

You should ask someone who can vouch for the quality of your voice to serve as your referee. This may be your school’s Head of Music, a choir leader, or your instrumental teacher if applicable. They should be someone impartial, who can offer a balanced assessment of your skill and potential.


How do I apply for a fee assistance bursary?

Bursaries are open to all.  All awards are means tested and are allocated on the basis of need and talent. If you wish to apply for one, you will be asked to perform an audition piece over Skype, enabling our team to select on the basis of quality and potential.  You and your family will then be required to complete a Financial Circumstances form.  If you require guidance about an appropriate piece, please email or call 01935 810 517.


What will I have to wear?

The dress code for the week is casual, but you will need a collared shirt and shoes that aren’t trainers for singing in the Abbey and School Chapel. Gowns will be provided.



About our team

A high-profile team of professional musicians and educators delivers the Sherborne Choral Course. Here is a brief guide to the main tutors.


John Rutter CBE

John Rutter is one of the best-known English composers and conductors of his generation. His music is characterised by beautiful melodies that resonate with audiences around the world.

Longer compositions include Requiem, Gloria, Mass of the Children and The Gift of Life, while his shorter pieces are justifiably famous. Many will be familiar with anthems such as For the Beauty of the Earth, All Things Bright and Beautiful and The Lord Bless You and Keep You both from their extensive radio play and from performing them in concert.

John was Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge, and leads the Cambridge Singers, who have made more than 50 recordings since the 1980s. He established the Collegium record label in 1983.

John will be sharing a new composition at the Sherborne Choral Course, leading the choir through rehearsals and conducting them during evensong in Sherborne Abbey.


Bob Chilcott

Bob Chilcott has been described by The Observer as a “contemporary hero of choral music” – an epithet that neatly captures his contribution to the British choral tradition. Bob was a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge and performed with the highly popular King’s Singers for 12 years.

With a particular reputation for compositions that engage young people, Bob is renowned for his friendly style. His St John Passion, Salisbury Vespers and Requiem are well known to many, both as recordings and performance pieces. They speak of his immersion in the Church’s choral tradition, but Bob’s expertise does not end there. As Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers since 2002, he knows how to bring the best out of any choir, whether they are preparing for a great liturgical act or to perform a piece of secular music in concert.


James Henderson

As Director of Music at Sherborne School, James oversees the Sherborne Choral Course and is a lead tutor and conductor.

An experienced tutor on similar courses elsewhere in the country, James is steeped in the Church’s musical traditions. He regularly conducts Sherborne’s choir as it leads services in the Abbey, and works closely with the clergy and staff team to ensure that the music is of the very highest quality.

James came to Sherborne in 2005 having previously been involved with the music at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and having been Director of Music at Portsmouth Grammar School where he worked with the London Mozart Players in the Portsmouth Festivities. Thanks in no small part to his visionary leadership of the department, Sherborne is widely recognised as one of the country’s foremost independent schools for Music. Indeed, The Week named the School “Best for Music” in its Independent Schools Guide – a well-deserved accolade that underscores the credentials of its Choral Course.


At Sherborne, Director of Music James Henderson has taken the School to the pinnacle of achievement, not least in its choral reputation. He is passionate about passing on his love of choral singing to others. Along with our wonderful Abbey choir, we have here in Sherborne a centre of musical excellence that is second to none. It’s all about passing on the passion for choral singing to the next generation, in a glorious, vibrant and ancient place of worship. That is one of the best gifts that anyone with a voice can be given."

The Rev’d Canon Eric Woods DL


Professor Magnus Williamson

Organ tutor Magnus read music at Magdalen College, Oxford, before taking his DPhil and teaching at Somerville College, Oxford. He then moved to Newcastle University, where he has a particular interest in late-mediaeval music.

Magnus became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists in 1988 and is a popular and busy performer. He has won prizes for improvisation, and regularly plays both secular and sacred music at venues throughout the world.

Magnus will be working closely with our organists on the Sherborne Choral Course, helping them make the most of the opportunity to play Sherborne’s three wonderful organs.


The Rev’d Canon Eric Woods DL

Canon Eric Woods has been the Incumbent of Sherborne Abbey since 1993. A highly experienced priest, pastor and liturgist, he has taught on a variety of adult-education courses, covering subjects as diverse as doctrine, church history, biblical studies and ministry. In 2011, in recognition of his services to Dorset, he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of the County – its only ordained DL.  

As the leader of the Abbey community, Eric oversees the services at which the choir sings during the Sherborne Choral Course. He works closely with James Henderson to plan liturgies and agree on the appropriate musical arrangements for each act of worship. As a graduate of two very musical colleges – Magdalen, Oxford, and Trinity, Cambridge – he likes to cantor at evensong whenever he can.



Vocal Tutors

Kate Gannon

After reading Music at Nottingham University, Kate began her career by performing in major London venues and for the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Society. She went on to appear in operas and oratorios throughout Europe and won the Luisa Tetrazzini Medal for Coloratura Singing in 1999, as well as representing Ireland in the Arturo Toscanini “Verdi Voices” in Busetto, Italy. After 12 years in Spain, during which she played a variety of operatic roles, Kate returned to the UK in 2012, where she continues to perform regularly in recitals across the country. She teaches singing at Sherborne and Bryanston, as well as leading annual singing courses in Pollença, Spain.


Elizabeth Donovan

A graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Elizabeth represented Wales in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2003. She joined the Welsh National Opera, and became a freelance soloist in 2006. She has performed with opera companies and in concerts around the world, working with some of the world’s greatest conductors and musicians. Since moving to Wiltshire in 2017, she has worked as a vocal tutor at Wells Cathedral School, Sherborne Girls, St Mary’s Calne, Dauntsey’s School Devizes and King Edwards School Bath. Elizabeth previously taught at Rugby School.


Philip Pooley

Philip was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral, went on to Marlborough College as a music scholar and was then awarded a choral scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford. He studied singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and has performed with leading chamber choirs such as The Sixteen, The Academy of Ancient Music and the Huelgas Ensemble, for which he was the youngest debutant. Philip has worked for many years as an opera singer, performing regularly at The Royal Opera in Covent Garden and at Glyndebourne. In 2003, he started a 12-year stint with Welsh National Opera. An accomplished vocal tutor, Philip has worked at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, Sherborne, and Kingswood School, Bath.



Register now for the Sherborne Choral Course 2019


To secure your place on the Sherborne Choral Course 2019, please fill in the form on this page. The  total charge for the course is £650, reduced by 25% if you book by 1st January 2019. A deposit of £100 will need to be made to Sherborne School at point of registration, please send a cheque payable to Sherborne School. If you are paying by BACS, bank transfer, online transfer, please see details below. The balance will need to be made by 15 May 2019. 

  • Bank: Lloyds Bank Plc
  • Sort code: 30-99-98
  • Account number: 01884627
  • Account name: Sherborne School Domus
  • Please use the reference: Choral Course


If you would like to apply for a bursary, please be sure to make this clear on your application. We will be in contact to arrange an internet audition. You will need to give the name and contact details of one referee, who can vouch for your quality as a singer or organist.  If you have any questions, please refer to our FAQs or contact us.

For terms and conditions, please click here.


Note: Please ensure deposits are paid before filling out the form below.

Sherborne Choral Course

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If you have any questions, or would like further information about the Sherborne Choral Course, please contact:

Sherborne Choral Course
Sherborne School
Abbey Road

Tel: 07841917848




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