Friday, March 13, 2009


I wish I could have been a choirboy. Two things stood in my way, a complete lack of talent and I wasn’t Catholic. Still, I think it must feel good to wear the cassock and surplice. It looks comfortable and it’s a beautiful costume, especially with the ruffled collar. I don’t know if the color of the cassock has any meaning but I’ve seen both red and black ones.

I was reading ‘The English Chorister, a History’ by Alan Mould, who used to be head-master of Saint John’s College choir school, and I came across a line that made me laugh.
He wrote,” Evidently a particular problem of the late fifteenth century, ‘our present wanton age’, was a boyish urge to wear outlandish clothes, even in quire: ‘pointed slippers, long hose, strait doublets and short cassocks barely covering the buttocks‘.”
So a teenager’s need for unconventional clothing is not just a modern trait. I won’t say what I was wearing in my teens but I burned the pictures.

There are other choir costumes today besides the traditional cassock and surplice. Libera is known for floor length white monk’s robes with hoods. Their robes are very full and take quite a bit of fabric to make so they look substantial and strong. It’s a look that is both historic and spiritual.

Monk’s robes are also worn by Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois.
I don’t know the history of their costumes but they have wooden crosses dangling like pendants from their necks.

The most famous uniforms belong to the Vienna Boys Choir, black or white sailor suits. I’m told that the dark ones are deep blue but they look black to me and these are worn for formal concerts and important events.

Les Choristes (Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint Marc) wear loose, baggy trousers that come to just below the knee, long white sox, a light blue pin-striped shirt and a sleeveless sweater that is sort of a slate color. It looks very French.

As I look at boy choirs from around the world I am finding that there is a huge variety of costumes, more than I realized. There are all sorts of robes and suits in a wide range of colors. I think it makes the whole world of boy choirs much more fun.


  1. One of my favorites are the Tolzer Knabenchor and their knickers with red and white checked shirts. Also the Drakensburg Boys with their light blue vests and white ruffled shirts are stunning. And then you should see Drakensburg when they do their traditional native african songs in their brightly colored shirts and white gum boots.

  2. Funny nowadays how 'unique' a group like Libera are perceived for being 'robed' when, looking back, the earliest choirs would have dressed markedly similar...

  3. Yes, Kelsie, and it's still a good look, isn't it?. I sort of would like to see robes for men come back into fashion. I'll bet they're comfortable, but I guess I would have to move to the middle east if I want to find out.

  4. To anonymous...
    The boys of Bad Tölz are quite proud of their Bavarian costumes. Except perhaps for the socks, some ones think it would be better to have grey socks. I'm for red socks!
    As I attended Tölzer and Drakies concerts last year, I can say the Drakies are wonderful boys with marvellous dressing. I always thought djembe was not a music instrument but when Ndumiso is playing...