‘Devastated’ St John’s Cambridge mixed choir abolished, with music director made redundant

19 March 2024, 11:00 | Updated: 22 March 2024, 14:43

St John’s Voices
St John’s Voices. Picture: YouTube / St John’s Voices

By Kyle Macdonald

One of the UK’s finest mixed voice choirs is being disbanded, in a decision that severely limits musical opportunities for female undergraduates at the Cambridge college.

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Leading choir St John’s Voices has been told by St John’s College, Cambridge that the group is being abolished, and their director of music Graham Walker is to lose his post.

St John’s Voices is a mixed-voice choir at St John’s College, Cambridge. It was formed in 2013 to support and complement the singing of the college’s main chapel choir.

“We were devastated to hear yesterday that the college has decided to disband SJV at the end of this academic year,” the choir said in a post on the social media platform X.

“We are so proud of what we have achieved and will miss singing together every Monday. Thank you for your support.”

The decision means that soprano undergraduates at the college no longer have the opportunity to sing in chapel choral services. The chapel’s main choir, the Choir of St John’s College Cambridge admits only female altos, with younger boys’ and girls’ voices taking the treble line.

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Just last Thursday the choir sang a concert of Rachmaninov and Golovanov choral works in the college chapel. The ensemble has regularly sung for choral services, concerts and events in the college’s historic chapel.

St John’s Voices made its first commercial recording in 2019, featuring music by William Mathias. A second recording featured the choral music of Pavel Chesnokov, which in a review Choir & Organ called “gorgeously blended and resonant”.

Read more: 15 of the greatest classical choral works ever written

In a statement published on Thursday, the College said that after a recently completed review of music, the St John’s College Council made a unanimous decision to pursue a broader approach to co-curricular opportunities in music. A scheme to provide music lessons for any St John’s student, new opportunities for non-auditioned singing, innovative inter-disciplinary projects, and outreach and engagement programmes were all named as proposals.

“While St John’s College Choir is not able to offer opportunities for soprano singers, talented classical singers of all voice-types are exceptionally well provided for across the University of Cambridge,” the statement said.

The college’s music-making can be traced back over 500 years to 1511, and the present main choir began in 1670.

The Choir of St John’s College Cambridge is regarded as one of the world’s finest choirs and will be unaffected by the latest announcements.

In October 2021 it was announced that the choir would admit girl trebles and women altos, making it the first Oxbridge choir to have both boys and girls singing services together.