Which Cambridge choir is the best? Perhaps that’s the problem

Which Cambridge choir is the best? Perhaps that’s the problem


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2015

An article in Varsity by music undergrad Alvo von Cossel has set the dovecotes all a-flutter. Alvo describes the different colleges and their choirs are impossibly snobbish and destructively competitive.

He writes: There’s something inherent in classical music and music education that causes a snootiness which has nothing to do with Cambridge: it’s full of ‘foreign’ words… This engenders an artificial rift between the ‘musical literati’ and the ‘laypeople’, according to these bizarre criteria. Those ‘in the know’ often seem to give the ‘great musical unwashed’ a patronising pat on the back. I, as a former ‘muso’, oddly count as somebody in the know: an authority on Händel (fat) and Mozart (wrote songs about poo), despite specialising in Middle Eastern popular music – a subject remote from Mozart’s 41 symphonies. Maybe I perfected the art of quietly listening to something that ‘sounds really complicated’ (read: atonal music) while looking thoughtful.

This snobbery is seen nowhere more than in the odd Cambridge pastime of ranking college choirs.


Read on here.


  • Alberto Martinez says:

    If instead of ranking choirs they should care about “laypeople ” listening to Classical music everything will be much better for the music scene and music teaching . Alvo Von Cossel is describing one of the reasons why “laypeople ” shouldn´t care less about the “musical literati “.

  • JAMA11 says:

    When I was in college, I sang in a very well-established and well-respected choral program.

    Whenever we went to conventions or hosted visiting choirs, it was astounding to see the degree of competitiveness, jealousy, ranking and list-making, and so forth that would be directed often at us, but also at the world in general. It was so distasteful.

    Keep in mind that the vast majority of choral singers at US colleges will not go into a field remotely related to music. So, even those young people who might be MOST inclined to explore classical music may end up coming away with a sense that the entire classical music world is full of this bizarre pettiness and jealousy.

    • Alberto Martinez says:

      People will explore classical music anyway.Those ego games and status quo obsession in choirs and classical music will continue.John Blacking was right ….