Oxford University Composing for Choirs Summer School 2020


This course runs in parallel with the Choral Singing course. Composition students not only participate fully in the Choral Singing course but also receive additional daily tutorials (small-group tuition) in choral composition. During the course of the week, composers will be set assignments in word setting for choral ensembles and will receiving mentoring from internationally renowned choral composers. Through their participation in the Choral Singing course, they develop choral musicianship skills from the inside, working within a small choir typical of those found in many of Oxford University’s colleges and chapels. Studying and living in Oxford’s former Anglican monastery, now a Private Hall of the University of Oxford, students are immersed in the riches of the English choral tradition. The beautiful buildings of St Stephen’s House include some of the university’s finest acoustics for music and provide an atmosphere of serious study whilst being set in a vibrant quarter of the city. Applications are especially welcomed from composers who already possess good musical skills.

Hear some recordings of previous cohorts here.

Programme details

Students attend daily tutorials or seminars in choral composition (normally in the afternoon) in addition to the singing requirements each weekday morning from 10.15am to 12 noon and each weekday afternoon from 2pm to 3.30pm. There is an evening session daily after dinner, from 8.30pm - 9.30pm, in which composition students’ work may be rehearsed alongside other course repertoire. In free moments, composers will work on their assignments or take inspiration from the beautiful cloistered surroundings of St Stephen’s House.

An introductory session on the first Sunday evening opens the course which concludes with a performance event on the Saturday before the final dinner. Students depart after breakfast on the final Sunday.


Singing session themes:


Plainchant and medieval music


Music of the Sixteenth century


Sessions with the course guest conductor


Music of the Seventeenth to early Twentieth centuries


Music of the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries


On successful completion of the Summer School, all participants will receive a University of Oxford Certificate of Completion.

Please note that this course does not offer any form of official credit to participants.


Description Costs
Programme Fee 1: Tuition, Full Board, Ensuite Accommodation £1595.00
Programme Fee 2: Tuition, Full Board, Standard Accommodation £1485.00
Programme Fee 3: Tuition, Full Board, No Accommodation £1275.00


Up to two partial funding scholarships may be awarded. Applicants should complete all the mandatory elements of the application as shown above and should additionally submit the following:

1. A personal statement that outlines the value which the course might be expected to have to the candidate, especially as to why it presents opportunities that may not otherwise be available. This should also state how the candidate’s experience or abilities would enhance the group.

2. A statement written by a teacher, colleague or associate that outlines the suitability of the candidate for a scholarship.

Please note that any application for scholarship funds must be made in conjunction with your original application to the course. A funding application cannot be made after a self-funded place has been offered.

The majority of the fund will be allocated within the first cohort of admissions (closing date: 31 January 2020). Applications received by this date will have the greatest opportunity for funding to be awarded. 


Jonathan Darnborough


Jonathan Darnborough studied composition with Alexander Goehr and Robin Holloway at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and studied the piano with Phyllis Sellick. He was a postgraduate student at the Royal Northern College of Music, studying composition with Anthony Gilbert and was awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Composition. Jonathan Darnborough has written orchestral, choral, chamber and solo instrumental works. He is particularly interested in writing for voices and has written numerous songs and several musicals. He is currently working on an opera based on Euripides’s Hecuba.  His works have been performed in Britain, Europe and the USA, where the Boston Globe described him as having “a compositional voice that was unmistakably his own - harmonically daring yet shunning obscurity, ... both civilised and full of sap”.

Dr James Whitbourn

Tutor and Course Director

Dr James Whitbourn is Senior Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford and a member of the Faculty of Music at the University of Oxford.  As composer, conductor and producer, he has three GRAMMY® nominations amongst many international awards. A graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, his career in music began in the BBC, for whom he has worked as composer, conductor, producer and presenter.  His largest composition is the concert-length choral work Annelies, which sets words from The Diary of Anne Frank. Other notable works include Luminosity, Son of God Mass for saxophone, choir and organ and The Seven Heavens for choir and orchestra - a portrayal of the life of C. S. Lewis in the imagery of the medieval planets. His choral works have been presented on acclaimed recordings, including five complete discs of his choral music, and are regularly performed throughout the world.

Course aims

The course, through practical seminars with singers and through individual and group tuition for composition students, aims to deepen understanding of the skills, techniques and philosophies of setting text for a chorus of singers.

Assessment methods

There are no formal assessments for this course.


Click 'apply' above to download an application form.

Prospective students must supply:

  • A completed application form.
  • Personal statement of all musical experience including, but not limited to, composition.
  • Two samples of your existing compositional work.

Please note that samples may be emailed separately to ipmusic@conted.ox.ac.uk.