Role of the organ scholar
The organ scholars at Balliol – of which there are a maximum of two at any time – form a central part of Chapel and musical life in the College. For a college that does not have a Director of Music, the organ scholars are the principal point of contact for all music-related matters, namely choral music. Organ scholars at Balliol are given the unique opportunity to be solely responsible for directing and accompanying the choir, which allows conducting and accompanying skills to develop during the organ scholars’ tenure. The organ scholarship suits a confident organist and choral conductor, as well as someone who wishes to develop their conducting experience.
The choir is non-auditioning, comprising undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff, who meet to rehearse once a week (Friday evening 5.30–6.30pm), to prepare for the weekly service of Choral Evensong on Sunday. On Sundays, the choir rehearses for Choral Evensong 4.00–5.15pm, with Evensong taking place at 5.30pm. A complimentary meal and drinks are provided after Evensong, allowing choir members to socialise and relax.
Working with the Chaplain, organ scholars devise termly music lists and choir concerts, and also organise choir social events. A prominent feature of the musical year is a regular choir tour; recent visits have included tours to Sicily, Florence, and Venice.
The Chapel organ is a fine Harrison & Harrison instrument from 1938, with three manuals and 24 stops. It offers a wide range of musical and tonal colour, and is a great joy to play. The organ was fully refurbished in 2020. There is more information about the organ here.
‘I chose Balliol because of the independence the organ scholar has in running the musical life of the Chapel. With one service a week the workload is very manageable, but running the show on your own is a really exciting opportunity to gain confidence in conducting and accompanying and to do your own thing with the choir. I particularly love conducting the choir. Choosing appropriate music and organising the choir is quite a challenge to get right but such a thrill when you do. There’s no better feeling than seeing them giving it their all and sounding amazing. Being organ scholar at Balliol was a highlight of Oxford for me!’ — Yasar Cohen-Shah, Organ Scholar 2018–2021
Further information and how to apply
The College remunerates organ scholars with an honorarium of £300 in the first academic year and then £500 in subsequent years, together with accommodation in the Garden Quad (during the first year), and Front Quad (during subsequent years) at the standard rental rate. Both rooms are provided with a piano, allowing convenient opportunity for practice. Regular lessons are also provided with an organ and/or conducting teacher of the organ scholar’s choice, with the cost paid for by the College. Balliol normally appoints organ scholars on a biannual cycle. In the second year of an organ scholar’s tenure, an organist from outside assists the organ scholar.
To apply you will need to complete an application form, which is normally available from the start of July. If shortlisted, you will be invited to come to Oxford in September to participate in the interview and audition process. Please see the University’s Organ Scholarship website for full details. It is a requirement that organ scholars study any subject that is offered by Balliol at undergraduate level, with the exception of Medicine, Biomedical Sciences, Classics, and Joint Schools with Classics: please check Oxford University’s web page regarding course availability. To be successfully admitted as an organ scholar you will need to satisfy both academic and musical requirements, and are assessed in terms of the former against the standard selection criteria for all undergraduate applicants at Oxford.
We are always delighted to hear from prospective applicants: please contact the Senior Organ Scholar, Benjamin Gardner, who would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Should you have any questions about the admissions process, please contact the Undergraduate Administrator.