You want Mädchen in a Knabenchor? A semantic or an existential crisis?

Martin Ashley

Issue Two | Page 40 | October 2021


Although it is common to find young female singers in English cathedrals where once there were only boys, change in this direction has been slower across mainland Europe. The word "Knabenchor", often used in Germany, denotes a specific gender, whereas in England it has been assumed that cathedral choir means boys' choir. The gender-neutral terms "youth choir" or "Jugendchor" avoid difficulties. Youth choirs often provide age-appropriate boys', girls' and mixed sections to prepare young singers as future performers. However, leading ecclesiastical choirs both in the UK and mainland Europe are likely to see the performance of the music as a higher priority. This has led to difficulty as the age of puberty reduces in boys. In Germany, where older adolescents sing lower parts, imbalances have been reported where boys as young as thirteen have become tenors or basses. A younger average age for sopranos and altos also means less maturity in these parts. This difficulty is felt less in England where girls are readily available, but the exclusion of adolescent changed voices risks a future shortage of tenors and basses. It is mainly ecclesiastical choirs, hidebound by tradition, that face these perceived challenges. Secular choirs are freer to adapt to changing circumstances.

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