Escolania de Montserrat – One of the best choirs in the world
Young voices in a centuries-old tradition
In July 2021, BBC’s classical music review named the Escolania de Montserrat one of the 10 best choirs in the world.
This boys-only choir brings together about 50 boys aged 9 to 14 years old who sing in the daily liturgical services of the Montserrat Monastery, tour the world on concerts, and have an abundant discography, counting 100 albums so far. You can rarely find an empty seat to listen to them! The audiences often speak of their mesmerizing performances, haunting voices, and divine auras.
So, what makes this choir so unique?
While the contributing factors may be many, the pillars of their success may most certainly lie in exceptional talent, rigorous discipline, established tradition, and a supportive community.
The Escolania has always welcomed musically talented children from all backgrounds from all over Catalonia. Boys who make it to be an “Escolanet” - the name that the members of the Montserrat Boys’ Choir receive – are truly exceptional individuals who undergo rigorous assessments based on their vocal ability, school performance, adaptability, and sociability. Indeed, they possess characteristics that may not be as common among other children their age, such as an interest in classical music, a proclivity for reading, courage to perform publicly in front of large crowds, public speaking skills, and more.
It is, therefore, no wonder that remarkable composers and performers have emerged from the so-called Montserrat School of Music. Even today, most of the choirboys, when they leave Montserrat, continue their music studies and typically stand out professionally as singers, instrumentalists, or conductors.
But what is talent without good education?!
The Escolania provides the comprehensive education necessary for the boys’ talents to thrive. Montserrat’s choirboys study the same subjects as other boys their age in the morning and dedicate their afternoons to music studies (music theory, choir singing, orchestra etc.). All the kids learn to sing and play the piano and an instrument of their choice: violin, viola, cello, double bass, French horn, trumpet, trombone, transverse flute, oboe, bassoon or clarinet. The most advanced piano students are also offered the option to learn to play the organ. So, when the boys leave the choir, usually at the end of their 2nd year of secondary school (or earlier if their voice changes sooner than expected), they carry with them a musical education that will allow them to become professional musicians.
What is more, the Escolania strives to create a nurturing environment on the human and spiritual level as well, which fosters a positive growth in their critical age. The establishment of "La Residència" (the boarding school) for all the boys’ needs, the presence of the community, the involvement of the families, and many more are all efforts to bring together the best elements for a successful and comprehensive education of young minds and souls.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day!
And Escolania’s roots in tradition run deep!
The Escolania de Montserrat is one of the oldest choirs and music schools in Europe with the first written reference dating back to 1307, which also mentions the black & white tunic they continue to wear up to date. This is a choir that has been singing for over 700 years.
Perched up in a rocky mountain only an hour drive from Barcelona, the Montserrat Monastery, home of the Escolania, was founded back in 1025 and is run by male monks of the Benedictine order. The Montserrat Monastery has always been a hotspot for pilgrimage; the Virgin of Montserrat is Catalonia’s favorite saint; and the Montserrat mountain, located right at the geographical heart of Catalonia, has been one of the most iconic symbols of Catalan identity for centuries.
Since its inception, centuries ago, the Escolania (also known as the Monserrat Boys’ Choir) had one main mission – cherish the centuries-long music tradition of the Montserrat School and bring to their listeners the peace and beauty of God. Today, as in the past centuries, the purpose of the Escolania is the daily participation in the prayer of the sanctuary and the diffusion of sacred music, both of its own authors (Montserratina School), and that of international composers. The boys’ faultless intonation, exceptional musical sensitivity, and stunning performances remain hallmarks of their remarkable talent and the excellent formative education received in Montserrat.
So, which pieces best represent their singing?
From all the pieces the choir performs in its daily liturgical services, two pieces stand out: the midday singing of Salve Regina and the "Virolai", the Anthem of Our Lady of Montserrat, composed by Jacint Verdaguer in 1880.
The Virolai is undoubtedly an excellent piece of music and one of the most significant compositions and symbols of the Escolania of Montserrat. This emotional piece has grown to become a spiritual and patriotic symbol of the Catalans. The choirboys sing the hymn every day at 13:00 h. You can watch it online by clicking on this link.
In addition to the Montserrat School, the Monserrat Boys’ Choir also sing Renaissance polyphony (mainly T.L de Victoria and G.P. da Palestrina) as well as Brahms, Mendehlssohn and other famous composers of classical music. Whereas in their performances outside of Montserrat, the Escolania will often play Catalan folk music by various Catalan composers.
Despite their many talents and accomplishments, there is one thing that makes the Escolania de Montserrat a truly exceptional choir – their singing has the power to touch the hearts of people who have traveled from far and wide just to listen to them, and who leave deeply moved and overwhelmed. It feels as if their voices speak a universal language that the human heart understands. Listen to these wonderful interpretations of Nigra Sum and Pie Jesu and judge for yourself.
The choir has already toured in various countries such as The United States, Russia, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, China, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Hungary, Vatican City, Puerto Rico, Netherlands, Andorra, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Canada, Monaco, Austria, Israel, and Portugal.
If you haven’t had a chance to experience the magic of their singing, don’t miss the chance to do so in your next choir trip to Barcelona! Listening to them is such a privilege and a luxury for the ear that they will undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip! The next possibility is already from May 14-22, 2022, when SING FOR GOLD takes place in Calella and Barcelona. Click here for more details!
Here are some helpful details:
The Montserrat Boys’ Choir sings at 13:00 h from Monday to Friday. Check out more details in their singing schedule so you can plan accordingly.
Please note that since 2021, it is required to make reservations online in order to secure a seat – otherwise you might not be able to access the Basilica if it’s reached full capacity. Reservations for the Monday to Friday singing at 13:00 h can be made here. And Sunday mass is reserved here.
To get to Montserrat from Barcelona, you can drive your own (rental) car, or use public transportation, train or bus. Get all the directions and costs here. We’d recommend taking the most scenic option – train + cable car!
May peace and beauty be with you throughout your journey!
Choir: Escolania de Montserrat
Conductor: Llorenç Castelló
Repertoire: Sacred, Classical, Folk
BBC’s One of 10 Best Choirs in the World
Albums: 100+ recorded albums