Survey 2011

The state of Treble Line choirs – summary of a survey in 2011


Traditional Parish Church Choirs with All-Boy Treble Sections are Rare but in Good Health

  • Boy choristers are a traditional feature of church choirs in Britain.  However, only about sixty UK parish churches still have a choir that contains an all-boy top line (‘treble line’),  a quarter of the number in the early 1980s.  Their directors have created an association (“Treble Line”) to foster choirs of this type and the special benefits they can bring to their members (such as musical training and life-skills), the churches of which they are a part, and wider society.


  • A survey in early 2011 has highlighted the characteristics of those choirs with treble sections that have proved to be sustainable.    Perhaps unexpectedly, the large majority of churches with a treble section also have another choir in which girls or women sang the top line (23 churches had this arrangement, compared to only 7 that did not).  Treble sections are typically part of a strategy that offers equal opportunities to both boys and girls.


  • Based on responses from about half of the national total, the picture for choirs with all-boy top lines is, generally, hopeful.  For most that gave an answer (19 out of 29) numbers of boys had not changed much in the last five years, and another eight had seen an expansion by more than a quarter.  Only two had contracted by more than a quarter.  Almost all the parishes were felt to be appreciative of their choir (only one out of 32 reported a ‘mostly’) and only two felt that the future was less than assured for the next five years.


  • Choirs with treble sections are very diverse, both in their nature and in the environments in which they operate.  Choir sizes ranged from 7 to 36 trebles, with a median of 17 boys.


  • Though it is clearly possible for a choir to be sustained under a wide range of circumstances, there are some common features that facilitate this, such as proactive recruiting systems and good relations with local schools.  Recruiting was particularly effective when it was apparent to the boy and his parents that the choir was selecting the boy for his potential as a singer rather than the boy selecting the choir.


  • Retaining trebles involves making them feel appreciated, giving them the opportunity to achieve and be recognised for it, keeping them busy and presenting them with music that challenges at the appropriate level.  Rehearsals must be fun.  An active programme helps, often involving social events, tours and cathedral visits.  Though most choirs give pocket-money to their trebles, this seems to be a relatively minor factor in retaining membership; its value seems to be principally as a token of appreciation and achievement.


  • The personality of the choir director is important.  More than a third (10 out of 28) had been in post at this church for 30 years or more, with one having 54 years of service.  All but two of these were aged 60 years and over.  It is sometimes thought that this profile should be taken as a warning sign of what may happen when retirement becomes inevitable.  However, if robust systems are in place, the choir can survive.  Eight choir directors had been in post for less than 5 years, and six of these were in their 30s or 40s.  There was no clear link between the size of the treble section and the length of service and/or director’s age.


  • To summarise, the remaining parish choirs with boys-only top lines appear to be active and systematically organised units that have given thought to what makes a sustainable choir and that act on well-tried principles of good people-management.  Though the economic, social and religious environment in which they operate is bound to change over time, the basics of maintaining choirs with treble sections are well-illustrated by these choirs.


The full report of the survey of Treble Line choirs in 2011
(pdf file, opens in new window)

Results of the survey of Treble Line choirs in 2011
(pdf file, opens in new window)