Several months ago my 9-year-old daughter joined a large children’s choir here in New York City. The choir is so large that it involves more than 100 children grouped into several age-level divisions–requiring, therefore, no small amount of coordination of the children and parent-volunteers to make sure that children make it to rehearsals and performances and to make sure that the children are dressed as required. As a result, we now get forms and calendars handed to us and in regular mailings, all addressed to my daughter: “Dear Chorister”¦”
The address threw me off. My daughter is just a member of the choir. She isn’t conducting or directing or anything. She’s only nine!! Chorister is an unusual term for a member of a choir, isn’t it?
Growing up Mormon, I’ve always heard the word Chorister used to refer to the choir director or conductor, or to the person conducting congregational hymns. Its the title used for the person who directs the music for the ward or a group in the ward–there are Ward Choristers, Relief Society Choristers, Primary Choristers, etc.
To confirm my impression, I searched all the General Conference addresses and LDS.org, and found only one use of the word chorister to refer to members of the choir: a 1955 address by Pres. David O. McKay.
So, I then looked at how Chorister is used generally, and found something closer to the opposite. The most common use of Chorister is for members of a choir, especially for those in boy choirs; it means the singers, not the conductors. Every dictionary that I looked at, from the OED to Merriam-Webster, lists ‘member of a choir’ as the first definition and ‘leader of a choir’ as a second (i.e., less commonly used) definition.
The results of a google search shows similar results: Kings College, Cambridge has an information page on “how your son can join the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.” The National Cathedral in Washington DC is holding “Chorister Auditions.” And so on.
But unlike Mormon use, there is a bit of the ‘leader’ meaning–there is a “Chorister’s Guild” for choir leaders, and several other pages that use Chorister to refer to a leader of a choir, especially a children’s choir. However, when the LDS pages are excluded, the uses of Chorister as a leader of a choir are few compared to its use for members of a choir.
So, why is Mormon usage so different from that of the world at large? I don’t know. My searches show that we have used the term since at least the 1850s. But I haven’t looked into why very hard. It could be that Michael Hicks says something about it in Mormonism and Music, but I don’t have a copy to look in. But this is one of those things I’ll keep in the back of my mind, so I may eventually find an answer.
So, I’m adding Chorister to the words defined on Mormon Terms.
Any additional information is, of course, appreciated.