MONTSERRAT BOYS CHOIR, ONE OF THE BEST CHOIRS IN THE WORLD
The Montserrat Monastery is located perched up in a rocky mountain about 1 hour drive outside of Barcelona (Spain). It was founded in 1025 by the powerful Abbot Oliva, and it is run by male monks of the Benedictine order.
The Mountain of Montserrat and its Royal Basilica is one of the top destinations for a day trip from Barcelona. And seeing the Escolania Choir is one of the highlights. In this post we’ll share with you the facts that will make your experience even more meaningful.
Meet the Montserrat Choir
History of the Montserrat Boys Choir
The Montserrat Boys Choir, also called Escolania de Montserrat, is said to be the oldest choir and music school in Europe. The first written reference to the choir is from a document from 1307, and it already mentions the black & white tunic they continue to wear up to date.
As the influx of pilgrims visiting the monastery to worship the Montserrat Black Madonna or on their way to Santiago de Compostela, the importance of the choir grew accordingly. In 1479 they were invited to Barcelona to perform in front of the Catholic King, Ferdinand. Just 15 years later, a writing by the Abbot Cisneros on the importance of religious music mentions the Choir being 20 kids already.
A touching story is that of the chorister Bartomeu Garriga, who being a child made the promise to built a huge church to worship Our Lady. Years later, he became the monastery abbot and started the construction of a new church for the monastery.
During the next centuries, the Escolania de Montserrat continued to grow and got more organized, with the institution of the Masters of the Escolania – monks in charge of directing the choir.
In the first quarter of the 1900’s the Montserrat Choir had even started recording their first albums. Unfortunately in 1936 started the Spanish Civil War. The Choir and the community of monks had to be evacuated, since churches were being burnt and it was dangerous to stay in the Monastery. 23 of the monks were later on executed, one of them the director of the Escolania, Blessed Fr. Àngel Rodamilans.
The activity of the Montserrat Boys Choir reassumed right after the Spanish Civil War in 1939. By the 1950’s they’d reached 50 singers, they released more records and soon started offering concerts outside of the Monastery, even abroad.
Who are the kids of the Montserrat Choir?
Although it is not required, most of them are Catholic. But they all share a passion for classical music.
So far, only males are accepted in the Choir even if there were years when the decrease in membership applications made them consider accepting girls as well. In the end, it was decided to stick to tradition and keep it an all-boys choir but making boarding school optional.
How do you become a Montserrat "escolanet"?
“Escolanet” is the name that the members of the Montserrat Boys Choir receive. In order to become one of them, their parents need to contact the Abby, ideally in their first year of primary school (6 years old).
They’ll then start creating a relationship with the monastery and getting familiar with the dynamics of the choir. The parents will also learn about the pedagogic program of the school, to make sure it’s a good match for their family. And finally during the 3rd year of primary school the kid will have to pass several auditions to demonstrate their voice skills and musical talent.
Once accepted, families are asked to pay a few hundred euros a month for tuition. This accounts for around 20% of the real cost of the education. Government help covers another part, and the rest is taken care of by the Abby. Grants are available for families who can’t afford tuition, so no talented kid is left out due to economical issues.
What is the life at the Escolania Choir like?
In the morning, the Escolania runs like any other Catalan school: they study the subjects required for kids from 4th year of primary school to 2nd year of secondary school. There’s an important emphasis on English lessons, including an international exchange with London kids in their last year of the choir.
Although some of the monks participate in the musical education of the kids, most of the teachers are lay. Monday to Friday, the kids head to the Basilica to sing at 1PM, and after that they have lunch. Classes resume at 2.30 until 5.45, with a break at 4Pm. The afternoon is dedicated to music. All the kids learn to sing and play the piano, plus they get to choose one more instrument of their choice: violin, viola, cello, double bass, French horn, trumpet, trombone, transverse flute, oboe, bassoon or clarinet. And the most advanced piano students are also offered the option to learn to play the organ.
The kids sing again in the Basilica at 7.15, and then they can go back home or stay overnight. Except for Friday, when all of them leave at 5.30PM for the weekend. Some will be back on Sunday to sing at the 11AM mass. But they take turns so everyone has free weekends to spend with their families.
The kids leave the choir at the end of their 2nd year of secondary school (or earlier if their voice changes sooner than expected), with a musical education that will allow them to become professional musicians. Many actually do become musicians (rather than monks, in case you were wondering).
What kind of music does the Escolania de Montserrat Choir Sing?
The Montserrat Choir is above all a liturgic choir. That is, they specialize in religious (Christian) music. Their specialty is the music of the Escola Montserratina (Montserrat School), and from all the pieces stands out the Virolai, the Anthem of Our Lady of Montserrat.
But they also sing Renaissance polyphony as well as Brahms, Mendehlssohn and other famous composers of classical music. Plus they also play Catalan folk music, and they have recently collaborated with commercial Catalan singers such as Jordi Labanda, Sergio Dalma and Rozalen.
Montserrat Choir performance schedule
For this last one, the public stands up in respect and you’ll often notice locals singing along. It is considered a sung prayer, not a concert. So please no clapping after they end the songs.
They sing again at 7.15PM at the end of Vespers (that start at 6.30PM). Except on Friday, since they are already back home for the weekend. The Vespers singing is longer than the afternoon one, and it is at the same time more solemn but also more magical because the tourist crowds are gone.
The Escolania de Montserrat doesn’t sing on Saturday, and some of the kids are back to participate singing in the 11AM Sunday mass. What means on Sunday you won’t get to see the entire choir – just a part of it.
The Montserrat Choir is also non singing during the school holidays or when they are on tour giving concerts outside of the Monastery or abroad. This is why you should check out their performance timetable to make sure they’ll be signing on the day of your visit.
Furthermore, 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 its full capacity. Reservations for the Mon-Fri 1PM singing can be made here. And Sunday mass is reserved here.
Despite seeing the Choir at Montserrat is free for individual visitors, tour operators are forced to purchase packages for their groups. Such packages aren’t free anymore as they include other services such as the access to the Black Madonna Shrine, the Audiovisual Show, liquor tastings and more, besides watching the Montserrat Escolania perform.
Do you want to see the Escolania Choir?
How to get to Montserrat to see the Choir
- Via the A2, exit 582A. This road will allow you to take the cable car or the rack train up to the Monastery if you wish.
- Via the A2, exit 570. This road takes you straight to the Monastery and it’s usually less busy with traffic.
- Via the C58. This road is probably more scenic, and it also goes past the rack train station.
- Suburban train: R5 line departing from Plaça Espanya. Get off at Aeri de Montserrat to connect with the Cable Car, or at Monistrol de Montserrat to switch to the Rack Train.
- Suburban bus: There’s one daily bus connecting the Barcelona Sants Station with the Monastery of Montserrat, departing at 9.15. Then there’s another bus to get back in the late afternoon (5 or 6PM, depending on the month).
There’s many tour operators running day tours to Montserrat. Most of them are run in English and often at least one more language at the same time (with the guide switching back and forth). You get explanations during the ride, and then are given a quick overview of the Monastery area before being left for free time on your own.
Make sure to check if their tour includes access to the Escolania Boys Choir of if you have to book it yourself. And don’t trail off after the Choir is over: the buses depart back right after and if you miss it you’ll have to find your own way back to Barcelona!
If your budget allows, that’s the best way to go. You’ll have the dedicated attention of your English-speaking private tour guide, who will arrange all the necessary reservations for you, and keep an eye on the timings. And you’ll ride on a gorgeous Mercedes car rather than a dusty bus!
Here are the tours we offer that take you seeing the Montserrat Boys Choir:
- Montserrat Half Day Tour or Full Day tour. 5, 6 or 8 hours in the Mountain of Montserrat.
- Day trip to Montserrat and Sitges. 8 hour tour that takes you to Montserrat in the morning, and after hearing the Choir takes you to Sitges for a lovely lunch by the beach.
- Montserrat Colonia Guell Tour. A tour combining the Monastery of Montserrat and the Boys Choir with a little known Gaudi work: the church of the Cripta Guell.
- Barcelona and Montserrat tour. An ambitious program combining Montserrat in the morning and your favorite Barcelona sites in the afternoon.
Dont' miss the Montserrat Boys Choir in your next trip to Barcelona!
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Last update on 2021-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API