It has been a remarkable year for many reasons. And not least for a dozen girls at The Cathedral Grammar School who make up the Girl Choristers, the first group of its kind in the school’s 139-year history. Metropol finds out more about the trailblazing initiative.
Equality sounded very harmonious recently, when 12 eight-to-13-year-old girls sang their way into the nearly 140-year-old record books.
Founded in 1881, The Cathedral Grammar School was established to educate boy choristers and prepare them for further education. In 1995, this mandate was extended and a girls’ preparatory school was opened, too.
But the Cathedral Choristers remained a boys-only group.
That was until this year, when the Girl Choristers of the Christchurch Cathedral Choir was formed.
A series of Covid-19-related postponements may have delayed their launch, but on October 18 the girls made an inaugural public performance of the aptly named ‘A New Psalme’, a piece of work especially composed for them by international choral conductor and composer Sarah MacDonald.
Now, the girls will share the treble parts of choral performances with the boys, on their own assigned occasions, and will occasionally sing together at major events, too.
This opportunity was what attracted girl chorister Evelyn Lowe, pictured right, with her parents Sarah and Adrian.
“I wanted to sing with my dad,” she says.
Director of the Girl Choristers, Alex Goodwin, told those in attendance at the launch how the girls represented progression in the church, school and wider society.
“It is an absolute pleasure to be able to get to this point finally, after some cancellations this year, the 12 girls behind me represent an enormous step for the life of the Cathedral, city and country.
“They are supremely talented, have been working extremely hard for a long time, and I am really, really very proud to have finally got to this moment.”
Director of Music at the school, and Evelyn’s mum, Sarah Lowe, pitched the notion of a girls’ group after seeing similar initiatives while teaching music overseas.
“My love of music is around developing a spark in students, so that their education journey is fulfilling and meaningful,” she says.
The musical endeavour has also attracted attention from vocal heavyweight, Malvina Major, who is a donor. As well as King Singer, Chris Brueton, who is also a donor.
Dean of Christchurch, The Very Revd Lawrence Kimberley, says the Girl Choristers embody the very reason the girls’ school was opened.
“There are a number of reasons why the girls’ school opened, but one of them was to make it possible for Girl Choristers to emerge.”
At the launch, he said: “You have emerged, and we celebrate this wonderful new development. I want to acknowledge all of you young women, the hard work that you have been doing with Mr Goodwin this year, the choral training you have received, and the growth we have been able to see this year in your musical proficiency.”
The Girl Choristers have not only caught the attention of their local school and church communities, but been the subject of their own feature film by South Island current affairs film collective, Frank Film.
The historical significance of the occasion has also been celebrated by The Press and Anglican E-Life Magazine.
Principal Scott Thelning says in the Frank Film production how he hopes the doors opened by the girls will expand to other community groups, too.
He’d like to “work with local rūnanga in order to make a process work for them, not just that they come and sing with our girls but that we make this environment one that’s going to appeal and work for our full New Zealand culture.”
As well as being a specialist choir school, The Cathedral Grammar School is known for its music and arts curriculum, with more than 300 individual instrumental music and speech and drama lessons taking place on top of usual classes every week.
The school has an orchestra, stage band, rock band and string and woodwind ensembles, and a biennial Operetta which alternates with a concert.