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Durham Cathedral was a monastic foundation from its beginnings in 995 A.D. and remained such until the reformation. As in all monastic foundations, music for services was a large part of everyday life with the monks in choir singing daily. We do not know exactly when children first began singing with them, though we do know there was a Monastic Choir School in the 15th century. This seems to have been separate from the grammar school founded near the Cathedral later under the aegis of the Cathedral.
The earliest date which can be confirmed for the Choir School is 1416, when the boys were taught within the Cathedral. 1416 is taken as the date for the foundation of The Chorister School, therefore, which was for boys only until 2009, when girls were admitted to form a separate ‘team’, with equal responsibilities to the boys’ ‘team’. For more information visit www.thechoristerschool.com
A book about the history of the school was written by Dr Brian Crosby. “Come on Choristers”. Dr Crosby was for very many years both a teacher at the School, and a member of the Cathedral Choir.
There have been organs in Durham Cathedral since at least 1334, there being five of them before the dissolution!
A book about the history of the organs of Durham Cathedral, “Durham Cathedral Organs” can be purchased via this website (“Products” page) or from the Cathedral shop.
Over the last millennium music has been a large part of the life of the Cathedral, and Durham has an important collection of music manuscripts from medieval times – 13% of the total which exists in Britain. The handwritten manuscripts were catalogued by Dr Brian Crosby in his 1986 book “A Catalogue of Durham Cathedral Music”. A record of the Cathedral’s music manuscript collection and much of its early printed music collection can be found on-line via the RISM database - http://www.rism.org.uk/
History of the Choristers & song school