Updated, November 24, 2013 - Note that service dates and times are subject to change so check the Cathedral website or telephone ahead to be sure.The sound of Christmas carols sung by a cathedral choir is an important and familiar part of the holidays. In England the tradition of the cathedral choir, including trained English choirboys and poignant boy sopranos, is more well developed and refined than anywhere else in the world. Glance at the credits on favorite recordings of traditional carols in your own collection and you'll likely find one or two famous English Cathedral Choirs.
There is nothing quite like the sound of pure voices filling England's ancient Cathedrals all the way to their magnificent vaulted ceilings. And if you are lucky enough to be in England during Advent and Christmas, you could have a chance to hear Christmas carols, sung by an English Cathedral Choir in one of these magical settings.
How to Find The Best English Cathedral Choir Carol ConcertsCathedral websites often begin listing their holiday music schedules in September and October. Most plan a mixture of free and ticketed concerts. Some of the most famous - Handel's Messiah at St. Paul's Cathedral, Christmas Carols at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford - are free but tickets are snapped up early. Nevertheless, you can hear the famous Westminster Abbey Choir, or attend a popular carol service at York Minster simply by turning up early enough, on the day, to get a seat.
When making your plans, watch for concerts and services that feature the cathedral's own choir - these are the ensembles that have been gathered and trained for the best sound in that particular place.
Where to Find The Best English Cathedral Choir Holiday MusicThis list of England's most historic cathedrals includes 2012 Christmas music highlights. Follow the links for full Cathedral Choir schedules and ticket details.
- Bristol Cathedral, telephone +44 (0)117 926 4879. Carols by Candlelight with the Concert Choir of Bristol Cathedral and full orchestra, Dec.18 - this is a ticketed event. Service of Nine Lessons with Carols, December 23 and 24 at 3:30 p.m.
- Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral Carols by Candlelight in aid of the Children’s Society December 14 at 7p.m.; Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, December 23 at 7p.m.
Kings College Chapel, Cambridge Though not a cathedral choir, the Kings College Chapel Choir of Cambridge University ranks high alongside the best cathedral emsembles in the world. Because of its live broadcast by the BBC, the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is not only famous but very popular.
Canterbury Cathedral Two identical Cathedral Carol Services, on
- Dec. 23(unticketed) at 7:30p.m. Seating is first come first serve.
- December 24 (tickets) at 3 p.m. doors open at 1:30 p.m. Tickets to this concert are almost always fully allocated before the end of October.
- Chester Cathedral The Joy of Christmas with Chester Cathedral Choir Dec.14 and 21, 7:30 p.m., tickets from the Cathedral Shop, +44 (0)1244 500959. Service of Nine Lessons and Carols December 23 at 6pm, Christmas Eve and 3pm.
- Chicester Cathedral Cathedral Carol Services , Dec. 21 and 22 at 6p.m., ticketed, Dec. 23 at 3p.m., unticketed, doors open one hour before service.
- Durham Cathedral Christmas with Durham Cathedral Choir, carols and seasonal music including Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. Ticketed event, December 14 at 7:30p. Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, Dec.22, 7p.m. and Christmas Eve at 3 p.m.
Ely Cathedral Carol concerts in one of England's most beautiful cathedrals -
- Hark the Herald, December 21, 7:30p.m. Traditional carol concert with the cathedral choirs and the City of Cambridge Brass Band. Tickets from Cathedral website, online.
- Christmas Eve Carol Service, 6pm.
- Exeter Cathedral Christmas with the Cathedral Choir, Dec, 14 and 18th, 7:30p.m., ticketed event. Tickets from the Cathedral Shop, +44(0)1392 285983, or online.
- Christmas Carols on the Hour, December 14, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 30 minute carol concerts every hour
- St Cecilia Singers Christmas Concert, In Dulci Jubilo, ticketed event 7:30 Dec. 21
- Christmas Carol Service, Dec. 23 and 24 at 6p.m.
- Litchfield CathedralSpecial Choir Christmas Carol Concert, with Salvation Army Cannock Citadel Band, Dec.17 and 19, 8 p.m.; Christmas by Candelight Concert, December 20 at 7:30pm, ticketed event. Cathedral Carol Service, December 22 at 6pm.
- Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols", Saturday December 14 at 2p.m. Ticketed.
- A Service of Carols and Candlelight, Dec. 7 and 8, 5:30 p.m., Concert of Carols by Candlelight Dec. 11 (ticketed), 7:30
- Christmas Eve Carol Service, Dec. 24, 4p.m.
- Norwich Cathedral Christmas by Candlelight, Traditional music with the Cathedral Consort and Norwich Baroque, Dec. 13 at 7.30pm. Tickets from the Cathedral Shop, Prelude Records or by calling +44 (0)1603 218450.
- Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford Oxford's Cathedral has a world famous choir so hearing them sing requires advance planning. Christ Church Oxford Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, Dec. 23, 6p.m., Dec. 24, 3p.m. This famous service is free but ticketed. Postal booking opens in September and closes November 15. Apply for tickets by mail to The Cathedral Office, Christ Church, St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1DP marked ‘9 Lessons’. Enclose a stamped, addressed envelope (UK stamps). All applications are dealt with at the same time. Only 4 tickets per application.
- Peterborough Cathedral Christmas in Peterborough Cathedral Concert, Dec. 21 at 7:30p.m., ticketed event with information at the cathedral website. A Service of Lessons and Carols, Christmas Eve at 4 pm
- Rochester Cathedral Lunchtime Carols, December 14 at 12:30pm. Nine Lessons and Carols, December 20 and 21 at at 7:30p.m.
St. Paul's Cathedral, London
- Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols," featuring the cathedral boys choir and harpist Sioned Williams, Dec. 14 at 5 p.m.
- A Celebration of Christmas, featuring the Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia and celebrity readers. Dec. 19, 6:30p.m, all welcome. One of the highlights of the London Christmas season. Arrive early to queue.
- Christmas Carol Service, Dec. 23, 24, 4p.m., all welcome. Because of the popularity of these two concerts, this year they will be relayed live to a big screen in Paternoster Square.
- Salisbury Cathedral The holiday season is kicked off with a spectacular Advent Procession, "From Darkness to Light". It begins with the massive cathedral interior in total darkness and ends, after a service of readings and music with the medieval interior lit by 1,300 candles. Unmissable. In 2013, this service takes place at 7pm November 29 (free but ticketed) and November 30 (unticketed), and 5pm December 1 (also free and unticketed). The Cathedral Carol Service is Dec. 21 at 7pm (doors open at 6p.m.), and Dec 22 at 5pm (doors open at 4p.m.) No tickets required.
- Carols by Candlelight, December 20 and 21 at 7pm. Ticketed with tickets available at the Cathedral Shop box office.
- Cathedral Carol Service, December 23, 6 p.m.
Westminster Abbey A "cathedral" in all but name -
- The Choir of Westminster Abbey perform Bach's Christmas Oratorio (tickets from the Barbican box office), Dec. 3, 7p.m.
- The Westminster Cathedral Christmas Concert, December 12 at 7pm, supported by John Lewis in aid of Westminster Abbey. Tickets from the Barbican box office and online through the Abbey website.
- Service of Lessons and Carols, December 23 at 6p.m. and Christmas Eve at 4 p.m. Tickets - which are free - are now required and are almost always fully allocated before the end of November. Enquire at the Abbey Chapter Office, +44 (0)207 222 5152. In 2013, returned tickets became available through the Abbey's Eventbrite website, so it's worth checking.
- Dame Kiri Te Kanawa joins the Westminster Cathedral Choir and TV personality Alan Titchmarsh at the annual Lord Lieutenant's Carol Concert on December 13 at 7pm. This ticketed event, organized by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire raises fund to support the education of the Cathedral's boy choristers.
- Christmas Carol Service, Dec. 19, 20, 22 6:30p.m. Free tickets required, from Cathedral Box Office (+44 (0)1962 857275), the Visitor Centre, or online
- A Venetian Christmas. The Cathedral Choir and the QuintEssential Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble conducted by Dr Peter Nardone, with 16th century polychoral music by Monteverdi, Priuli and the Gabrieli family. December 14 at 7:30pm. Tickets from Worcester Live Box Office +44 (0)1905 611427.
- Cathedral Carol Service, Dec. 22, 23, 6:30 p.m.
York Minster The largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe is a splendid setting for:
- Several concerts of York's Christmas Early Music Festival, Dec.6 to Dec.15 (2013).
- Christmas Carol Concerts. There are a variety of Christmas music events every year listed on the Minster's special Christmas web page. Tickets from the Minster Box Office
- Nine Lessons and Carols, Dec. 22 and 24 at 4 p.m.