Unique in Scotland in singing daily services and having its own choir school, the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh enjoys an international reputation through its recordings, tours, broadcasts, and concerts. Described by Gramophone as ‘one of Scotland’s (indeed the UK’s) musical jewels’, the choir consists of choristers aged 9-13 (all attending St Mary’s Music School on Cathedral or government bursaries), university choral scholars and professional lay clerks. In 1978 the choir became the first in the UK with a daily choral tradition to allow girls to sing alongside boys in the treble line – the thirtieth anniversary of which in 2008 was marked by an editorial in The Times – and then, in 2006, the first to admit a female alto. Every morning during term time the choristers rehearse at 8.25am for an hour before going to school. They then return in the evening for rehearsal at 4.55pm alongside the lay clerks before singing a service at 5.30pm. Choral scholars read music or another degree at the University of Edinburgh, while Lay Clerks combine professional work elsewhere (either musical or extra-musical) with their singing at St Mary’s.
The choir has an extensive discography. Its critically acclaimed recordings include a Gramophone Recommendation for Bruckner motets together with several ‘Editor’s Choice’ CDs from Gramophone and outstanding recommendations from International Record Review. The choir’s latest disc is of music by Kenneth Leighton, including a number of premiere recordings, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The choir has worked with many ensembles and orchestras including the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Opera North, and Dunedin Consort, and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio Three, Radio Four, and Radio Scotland. The choir has toured widely with countries including the USA and Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tokyo (including sell-out performances in Suntory Hall), Hungary and Germany. In December 2017 the choir was invited to sing at a Christmas Festival in France and then toured Prague, Vienna, and Bratislava at Easter 2018. The choir is known for its commitment to contemporary music and work with composers, commissioning pieces from (among others) Kenneth Leighton, Francis Jackson, Arvo Pärt, Howard Skempton, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Sir James MacMillan, Gabriel Jackson, Cecilia McDowall, and Daniel Saleeb.