The Organ Scholar at New College is in effect an assistant to the Organist (Director of Music). He or she plays an integral role in the life of the chapel music, accompanying services, participating in the training of the choristers, and working alongside the clerks. There are normally two organ scholars in residence at the same time. They occupy special rooms in College.
It will be obvious that musicians of accomplishment are needed to fulfil these roles. The standards of the Choir are recognised internationally, and the work of the organ scholar has to reach the same level. Candidates contemplating applying to New College should at the time of the organ trial in September have advanced beyond Grade VIII (Associated Board). On coming up, they are expected to be at diploma level. Most organ scholars come up after a gap year at a cathedral (or the equivalent). This experience is invaluable in ensuring that they can cope with the repertory of accompaniments and voluntaries encountered at New College. Organ scholars normally read Music, though they are not precluded from choosing another degree course. The College has a tradition of attracting candidates who succeed at the highest level in their academic studies. The Music course at Oxford permits many of the interests and skills of organ scholars to figure in their Music degree, including solo performance, and an option in choral conducting.
The organ scholar’s commitment to chapel services takes the form of six evening services a week during University term (terms run for eight weeks). There is a Sunday morning duty for a non-choral service. Major tours and recordings normally take place outside University term. In addition, one or other of the organ scholars is expected to be available to assist in the daily training of the choristers. This takes place mainly at the lunchtime practice (between 12.10 and 13.00) on all weekdays. The organ scholars also need to be available from mid-September to assist in the chorister training programme.
Becoming an organ scholar involves making a dual application to Oxford University (an organ and a UCAS form). The details of how to apply are given on the University’s Choral and Organ Scholarships website and in the University’s Undergraduate Prospectus.
The deadline for receiving applications is normally 1st September, twelve months before the desired year of entry (it is also possible to apply for deferred entry). The Undergraduate Prospectus also contains information about the University’s Choral and Organ Open Day, ordinarily late in April.
Students thinking of making an application are encouraged to attend the Open Day, which offers several workshop opportunities. In addition, prospective candidates may contact the Director of Music to discuss their application, and to arrange preliminary interviews/auditions.
Organ scholars receive an annual bursary from the College of £750. The College meets the considerable cost (several hundred pounds a year) of regular organ lessons. In addition, organ scholars receive professional fees for their work in the ‘commercial’ sector of the Choir’s activities, its concerts, tours and recordings. This is a significant annual sum.