Boy Choir Glossary

Figure 1.--This chorister at St. Wolo's Cathedral in Wales wears ared cassock with a neck ruff. Some English choirs also wear neck ruffs.

Many technical terms are used in association with choirs. This includes both terms used with the eclesiastical garments worn by many choirs and music terms associated with choral music, especially church music. The glossary might assist HBC readers better understand these pages.

Clothing Terms

Here are brief definitions of the formal eclesiastical garments worn by boy choirs. More detailed information and historical background is available on eclesiastical garmments in the garments section.

Cassock: A cassock is a long, close fitting garment worn by clerics or others like choir boys participating in church servives.

Alb: An alb is a white linen robe with closed sleeves. It is normally a garment worn by an officiating priest. An alb is almost always white and wraps around the wearer. While normally worn by a priest, it is also a garment worn by choir boys. When worn by a chorister, it is worn alone. Very often, albs have hoods and are accompanied by a belt or rope at the waist known as a cincture. Nearly all the French boychoirs are wearing albs.

Eton collar: Eron collars are the large, sfiff Eton collars adopted for the boys at Eton College. The Eton collar became widely worn by boys in the 19th century. It is worn by several choirs relecting their foundation in the 19th century.

Mortarboard: A mortarboard is a close fitting cap with a flat, square cap worn with a tassel. The cap is today worn at formal academic events. The cap and gown that graduates wear evolved a medieval university academic garments. These items are worn by a few choirs with academic associations like the New College Choir in Oxford.

Ruff: A ruff is a A projecting starched frill worn round the neck. They were done in different sizes and styles. They were characteristic of Elizabethan & Jacobean costume and worn by men and women as well as children. Some choirs have adopted these ruffs as part of their choir costumes.

Surplice: A surplice is the white robe worn over a cassock by clerics and others partivcipatingb in religious services like choristers.

Music Terms

Acoustic: Pertains to hearing and sound , specifically concerning choirs this refers to how voices are reflected within a building.

Alto: In choral music, alto is a lower part, commonly the second part in a four part chorus. The alto part is important in making the harmony of the music. Counter-tenors and boy altos sing alto parts.

Anthem: An anthem is a piece of choral music. The words of the anthem are chosen to reflect the service or occassion. The words of an anthem are in modern languages. A motet is an anthem written in Latin.

Baritone: Baritone is the adult voice between bass and tenor. There are levels of baritones, such as a bass-baritone.

Bass: Bass is the lowest part sung in harmonic music. The bass parts in choral music are sung by adults with a low-pitched voice.

Chant: A chant is a simple short melody, normally used to describe monodic intonation of plain song. The most well known choral chant is Gregorian chant. A chant is a piece of music, usually 14 bars long. Chiristers sing the words of the psalm to a chant. The words of the Psalms have special symbols (called pointing) which indicate how the tune accompanies the words of the chant.

Dec and Can: In choral terms, Dec stands for Decani which is the side of the Chapel (or Cathedral) where the Dean sits. Can stands for Cantoris which is the side where the Cantor sits. In religious choral music. if the piece is divided into more than one part for trebles, Dec usually sings the first part and Can the second par.

Gloria: Yje G;oria is the first piece sung in the Eucharist celebration. In the Gloria a Doxology is the refrain refering to the Holity Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). The Doxology is sung after each Psalm, and at the end of the "Mag" and "Nunc". The two best known Glorias are "Gloria in Excelsius Deo" and "Gloria Patria".

Hymn: A hymn is a musical piece sung to honor God or a nation. It is unique in cjoral music, because the Congregation joins in to sing a hymn along with the choir. A hymn is normally composed of a tune organized with a number of verses. Some hymns like "Amazing Grace" have proven so inspirational that writers compose new verses to be sung with the original tune.

Introit: The introit has a somewhat different meaning in the Catholic and high Protestant (Anglican and Lutheran) tradition. In the Catholic Church it is the part of the psalm with antiphone recited by the celibrant of the Mass. In the high Protestant tradition it is a palsm or hymn/moet sung at the beginning of the Mass as the celebrant of the Mass enters.

Magnificat: The Magnificant is based on the canticle or Song of Mary of the Virgin Mary in Luke (1:46-55). It is the first canticle sung at Evensong after the first lesson at Evensong. There are many musical settings for the words.

Motet: The motet is an unaccompanied choral composition sung in Latin and normally part of the celebration of the Euchrist.

Nunc Dimittis: The Nunc Dimmittis is the Song of Simeon. Simeon was the old man who received Jesus into the temple when he was a boy. It is the canticle in the words of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32), "Lord, nowv lettest thou thy servant depart in peace."

Organ: An organ is a musical instrument used in many churches. The sound comes from blown pipes which are played from a keyboard and a foot pedal for the low notes. This is the instrument most commonly used to accompany religious choirs and many classical choral compositions are written for organ accompsniment.

Organ Voluntary: This is a musical piece not a formal part of a religious service. It is played before or after the service.

Pointing: The symbols added to a printed psalm to show how the chant fits the words. The symbols are bar-lines and dots.

Psalms: The psalms are sacred hymns, prayers or songs. There are 150 psalms from the Old Testament Book of Psalms. Some traditionally attribute the psalms to King David, but some Biblical scholars are doubtful. They are undeniably a great literary treasure.

Reverberation: Reberberation is the period of time a sound continues to echo in a building after it has been made. This is an important measure of the acoustical characteristic of any performance area.

Tenor: Tenor is the adult male voice un a range between alto and bass. Tenors add range to boy choirs. They usually sing the third line of music down in formal choral compositions.

Treble: Treble is the highest part in harmonized music. Boy choristers sing the trebel parts. It is the top line in a formal choral music composition. Boy treble voices can be divided into first and second sopranos and altos.

Church Terms

Cathedral: A cathedral is essentially a large church. It is a term used in in the Catholic and high Protestant churches (Anglican and Lutheran) to signify an especially important church, in the Catholic and Anglixan church it is the seat of a diocese and located by the bishop's house. Cathedrals were built during the late medieval era, many in the Gothic style. These well endowed churches are able to support choirs and some of the modst important boy choirs are associated with important cathedrals.

Chantry: A chantry is the endowment to support masses, including sung masses, for the soul of individuals. A chantry is also the chapel for the person endowed.

Congregation: A congregation is a group of people convening for a religious services.

Eucharist: The Eucharist in Christianity is one of the sacraments, the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is a the Christian service 'consecrating' or making sacred the Bread and Wine, as Jesus did for his disciples at the Last Supper. The Eucharist is also referred to as the Mass.

Mass: The Mass is the liturgy or celebration of Holy Communion or Eucharist. In reference to choirs it the musical setting in which the Euchrist is celebrated and the composer's creation of the movements of the Eucharist.

Stalls: The choir have special pews where they sing a service.


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Created: 6:55 PM 7/7/2004
Last updated: 3:07 PM 7/8/2004