On being and becoming a cathedral chorister: A cultural psychology account of the acquisition of early musical expertise

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The life and learning experience of a cathedral chorister is a unique one. The domain of musical practice in which the cathedral chorister participates has been shaped around the sound of the boys' voice prior to adolescence and the attendant physiological changes that occur at that time. Unlike other musical practices in which young people participate, the performance peak for a chorister occurs around the ages of twelve or thirteen years. Once the processes of voice change commence, the unique sound qualities of the cathedral chorister can be overlaid by the unpredictable 'cracks' and 'swoops' of the developing male voice. Nevertheless, in a relatively short period of time - about five years - many cathedral choristers develop musical expertise and perform at the highest levels. How does this occur? What individual, social, and/or cultural conditions support the development of this early expert performance? What might we learn about the acquisition of expertise through the study of this practice? This chapter explores these questions through an account of a longitudinal narrative case-study investigation of life and learning in an English cathedral choir.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Cultural Psychology of Music Education
EditorsMargaret S. Barrett
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9780191594779
ISBN (Print)9780199214389
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cathedral choristers
  • English cathedral choir
  • Male voice
  • Musical expertise
  • Musical practice

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