For around eight years I was a Tenor Lay Vicar Choral in the choir of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, one of two Anglican cathedrals in Ireland’s capital city.
The choir is made up of 18 Lay Vicars Choral and 4 Choral Scholars, and sings 3 weekly services in the cathedral, as well as additional services on feast days, concerts, and broadcasts. The singers are professional or semi-professional musicians who combine their cathedral duties with their careers or studies.
Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin is unique in Anglican cathedrals in Ireland and Britain in that it employs women adults to sing the soprano and alto lines in the choir instead of children – although it does also have a separate girls choir.
The choir is made up of professional musicians, and each singer is paid an annual stipend in return for their ongoing attendance and commitment. Lay Vicars are expected to be good sight-readers, and produce a good-quality tone that will blend with the rest of the choir.
Ahead of each service there is a rehearsal:
- On Thursdays, the choir rehearse at 5.20pm for a 6.00pm service, and then again after the service till 8.30pm
- On Sundays, the choir rehearse at 10.00am for the 11.00am Eucharist, and 2.30pm for the 3.30pm Evensong.
A Lay Vicar are required to be warmed up, robed, and ready to sing in the choir stalls ahead of the stated rehearsal time. Singers are also expected to prepare music at home on occasion.
In addition to the Thursday and Sunday services, there are optional services of Compline on Tuesdays and Saturdays that incur additional fees.
Choir terms traditionally operate like school terms. In Christ Church the choir year starts in September and runs through to Christmas Day. The choir then has a Christmas break, and returns to sing for Epiphany on 6th January. The term then continues through to Easter Day. There is then a week’s break after Easter, and then the choir continues on till the end of June. The choir does not sing during July or August.
The name “Lay Vicar Choral”
The term Lay Vicar Choral generally refers to a professional adult singer in a cathedral, church or chapel choir. A Lay Vicar Choral (also sometimes called a Lay Clerk, Song Man, or Vicar Choral depending on the institution) will generally sing with the boy (or girl) choristers at the sung services in a cathedral.
The Lay Vicar Choral name is derived as follows:
- Lay – refers to a non-ordained person – someone who is not a priest
- Vicar – refers to someone that acts on behalf of someone else. The word derives from the same linguistic root as the words Vice (as in vice-president) and Vicarious, where you act on behalf of another person. In this case, the Lay Vicar is hired to sing the services on behalf of the canons (priests) of the cathedral.
- Choral – refers to being a singer
I was a lay-vicar at Christ Church between 2007 and 2016. I now sing in the choir of St Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin.