Bach’s choir agrees to audition girls

Bach’s choir agrees to audition girls


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2019

St. Thomas Church in Leipzig has succumbed to political pressure and agreed to accept girls into its all-boys choir.

A Berlin lawyer, Susann Bräcklein, has said that a girl whose application was initially rejected has now been invited to reapply. The city councillor in charge of culture, Dr. Skadi Jennicke, was involved in this change of policy. A decision on whether this first girl is finally accepted or not will rest with the Cantor of St Thomas’s, a post held by J S Bach from 1723 to his death in 1750.

The Thomanerchor, founded in 1212, consists of around 90 boys aged 9 to 18, living in its boarding school.



  • V.Lind says:

    I hope the Cantor puts his foot down and cries “Nein, nein, nein.” Or else put the wretched girl in a dorm with her choirmates. Or will they have to rebuild that, too, to accommodate a silly girl who is probably a pawn of her ambitious idiots of parents?

    • V says:

      Silly, wretched and sexist argument here. I would want my daughter to have the same opportunity to make music as my son. If they need to make room for her so be it. She deserves my support. Calling her “wretched” and “silly” is mean and low-class.

      • Sanity says:

        What a stupid, ridiculous comment this is! As if there weren’t ANY other choirs on this planet (mixed or for girls) a girl could join…

  • frank says:

    Is there a difference between a girls’s voice and a boy’s voice at that age?

    • V.Lind says:

      9-18? Don’t be silly. Whatever age she is today, she won’t be for long.

      Anyway, beside the point. Leave the boys alone. Boys are having a tough enough time these days without one of the few places where they reign must be made “accessible” to stupid, ambitious, narcissistic people.

    • steven holloway says:

      There certainly is, and I am not too pleased with this development. Better would be to follow the way of Salisbury Cathedral and others: Alternate boys’ and girls’ choirs.

    • Alphonse says:

      In a word: yes. In two words: [expletive] yes.

    • Richard Todd says:

      Controversial, but I’d say yes. Here’s an article written by a choir master who has vast experience with the question:

      Matthew Larkin I don’t know anything about the particular circumstances described here, but I’m certainly aware of this occasionally-raging debate in more general terms. There are certainly those who believe that the institution of the Boys’ Choir, writ large, is exclusive, anachronistic, unjust, and so forth. And on the other side of the argument, there are those who believe that a single-gender children’s choir is a good thing, whether for boys or for girls. Some will make arguments based on vocal, or physiological differences between boys and girls. Some will cite behavioral concerns. Still others will say that boys and girls learn differently. Or that without boys’ choirs, there will be fewer tenors and basses in the future. And then there are those who extend the argument into a higher age bracket, and seek to exclude (or include) contraltos or countertenors. Personally, I think all of the concerns cited can be read as valid under certain circumstances, and as general premise would say that every young person deserves to have the opportunity to sing, to learn, and to pursue excellence as a singer. In my opinion, there is no better musical training than to sing in a choir as a young person, and to learn and experience what it means to be creative, intuitive, imaginative, and expressive; to value community, and to learn to trust your colleagues; to have the wonders of the western classical music canon opened to you; to have, if appropriate, your spiritual awareness piqued and stimulated by entering through a door that music opens for you. For nearly thirty years, I have conducted boys’ choirs. I grew up singing in one, and it is there that my musical (and religious) awakening took place. My true home in music is in the “cathedral” tradition, and for many people, this can be summed up as “boys’ choirs”. While there were good and bad parts to my childhood experiences, particularly with respect to the choir I was singing in, the impact the music has had on my life is immeasurable. I learned a great deal from this (and still am learning), and, as a choir director, I have always wanted to strengthen a boy’s sense of himself, through the exercise of imagination, empathy, commitment, respect for (and desire to create) beauty. I’ll leave it to others to say whether or not they think I have been successful, but I can say for certain that for many of the boys I have known, being part of a musical troupe of peers was a profound and generally positive experience. I can’t know for sure that they would have had the same opportunities to grow as musicians in a choir that was made up of boys and girls, but it’s perfectly possible that they would have. And yet, their experience was as it was. Part of my mission, at least, was to offer something to them that, while it had many things in common with team sports and competition, it also afforded the opportunity for a boy to take the sort of creative risks that are generally discouraged in today’s society. In Canada, for example, the threshold for many people of a boy’s potential is the ability to put a puck in a net, or to be good with numbers, or at science (we speak of the need to depart from stereotypes, but it’s funny how they’re still with us). Girls’ choirs offer many of the same things, of course, although there are very significant differences between boy and girl singers. I think the most obvious one is not so much in the sound (or manner of singing), but that girls can sing soprano or alto for their entire vocal lives. For boys, the soprano voice is fleeting, and unforgivably finite. And yet, every boy passes through those few years where they too have that voice. My own opinion is that this voice (and the person behind it) needs to have opportunity to learn to use it, and that such opportunities ought to be preserved, regardless of wider sociological observations and beliefs. I do not conduct a boys’ choir anymore, though, and while I may go back to doing so (assuming there are any left), I currently delight in conducting a choir where the treble line is shared between boys and girls. The girls are generally a bit older than the boys (several years, in some respects), and as a rule, are more experienced. But what I have found (and was finding for sure in my last year or two at Ottawa Cathedral) is just how well boys and girls can work together, and learn from one another. The exuberance and natural curiosity of the boys is well complemented by the wisdom and leadership of the girls, and both groups would not realize their full potential without the other, at least in my ensemble they wouldn’t. I don’t know if I would have foreseen that this would be true some years ago, but as I now see/hear it regularly, it’s pretty convincing to me. So, in summary, my own experience tells me that the intangible, undefinable, magical things that can happen to children and young people when they encounter choral singing, these can happen and do happen to boys and girls equally. The main thing for me is that young people have these opportunities to sing. If it’s boys in a boys’ choir, great. If it’s girls in a girls’ choir, that’s great too. If it’s both boys and girls in a single ensemble, singing together, I can tell you for sure that this is also great. Maybe the chattering classes ought to back off and celebrate that these institutions exist at all. Surely that’s the point in the first place, and we should leave the endless, unwinnable, interminable arguments behind.

    • Tamino says:

      Yes there is, and there is research to show it.
      The summary:
      Boys and girls have quite similar voices up until the age of about 8-10 years old, but then girls voices change earlier and differently than those of boys, who mutate years later, but going fundamentally down in pitch.
      A boy aged 10-14 (in average, depending on the age of onset of mutation if course) has more overtones and presence in his voice, compared to a girl who‘s voice then is softer and warmer.
      (all statistically, with individual variation)

      BOTH boys only and girls only choirs have justification artistically.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Now I’ve heard everything. Watch out Vienna Boys’ Choir.

    I’m not an expert on childrens’ voices but I believe there is a difference between the male and female voices of children.

    This kind of capitulation has me feeling utter contempt for the musical establishment of Germany. I’ve cancelled my subscription because the BPO has engaged in too much PC. Don’t need any of it. Life is too short.

  • Ms.Melody says:

    Bowing to the pressure from the woke, breaking a 900 year-old tradition.
    Weak and cowardly, which today will be proclaimed “brave and progressive”

  • Simon Hall says:

    Oh dear, what a shame. We are on the slippery slope.. today Leipzig, tomorrow maybe Vienna boys choir and others under pressure to follow suit.

  • Derek says:

    I am aware of a very good Youth Chorus open exclusively to girls 9 to 13 years.

    I don’t know why boys are excluded, (maybe because of voice breaking) but it seems to have been accepted for 25 years without question.

    Why not have choirs of different kinds? – It is not a problem.

  • Gustavo says:

    So from now on it needs to be called:


    How do transgender kids (“divers”) fit in?

    m / w / d

  • Nicholas Riddle says:

    Norman, the post is slightly misleading. What we refer to as “Mayor” in English is the Oberbürgermeister, Burkhard Jung. Dr Jennicke is the ‘Bürgermeister’ for Culture, but it’s misleading to call that ‘Mayor’ in English. It would be better to say Head of the Department for Culture in the City of Leipzig. She certainly isn’t what is meant by “Mayor” in English.

  • York University completed an extensive a study of children’s choirs. 130 listeners were asked to identify the gender of 20 choirs that were comprised of only boys, only girls, and mixed. The answers were correct only 53% of the time. The results by experts were not much better.

    If blind auditions were used, girls would enter these elite boys choirs.