Mixed group to take over duties of Escolania choir at Montserrat monastery one weekend a month.

Women and girls are to be admitted to a choir at the Montserrat monastery near Barcelona, home to the famous Escolania all-boys choir, for the first time in its 700-year history.

The new chamber choir, made up of a mix of about 25 boys and women and girls aged 17 to 24, will be separate from the Escolania, which comprises 45 boys aged nine to 14.

The monastery’s Father Efrem de Montellà said the mixed choir would take over the Escolania’s liturgical duties one weekend a month to give the boys a rest.

“We’re often asked why there aren’t any girls in the Escolania,” De Montellà said. “It’s a complex and difficult question. We follow a tradition that we would like to continue but we also realise we have to respond to demand.”

“In order to include all the girls who would like to sing at Montserrat and be escolanes we’ve decided to establish this second choir,” he added, describing it as a “historic step” for a choir that has been in continuous existence since the 13th century.

He said that although the philosophy behind the two choirs was the same, the director, Pau Jorquera, would decide on the ideal balance of voices.

After a lengthy debate, the move to include girls was decided in a vote by the Benedictine order that runs the monastery under the newly appointed abbot, Manel Gasch.

De Montellà said the new choir would complement rather than compete with the Escolania and both would wear the same vestment and sash.

Pupils at Montserrat study the standard school curriculum as well as learning to play the piano and one other instrument, while studying musical theory and choral singing.

As those in the choir are mostly boarders and are also called on to perform at weekends and feast days, De Montellà said this put a lot of strain on their families. By giving the choristers a weekend off each month, the mixed choir should help families decide if they wanted their child to join the Escolania, he said.

The monastery is a place of pilgri”age where people go to kiss the “black Madonna”, a 12th-century effigy of the Virgin of Montserrat. La Moreneta, as she is known, is a patron saint of Catalonia, along with Saint George.

The Escolania choir sing a hymn to the Virgin called El Virolai, which begins with the words “rose of April, dark-skinned woman of the mountain”.

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