Nine-year-old girl sues German boys choir for discrimination

Picture taken March 25, 2019 shows the Cathedral in Berlin, Germany. A 9-year-old girl is suing a centuries-old German boys choir, that is located in the cathedral arguing she was illegally rejected due to her gender
The 554-year-old choir performs at Berlin Cathedral Credit: Paul Zinken/DPA

A court in Berlin is to decide on Friday whether traditional all-male cathedral choirs are obliged to accept female singers under gender discrimination laws.

The family of a nine-year-old girl is suing the city’s oldest choir for discrimination after it rejected her application for an audition.

The case comes after Lesley Garrett, the British soprano, described all-male choirs as a “throwback to a bygone era” and called for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge to accept girls.

The State and Cathedral Choir of Berlin was founded in 1465 by Prince-Elector Frederick II of Brandenburg, and performs regularly in Berlin cathedral and around Europe. It has never admitted women.

The family of the nine-year-old girl argue that because the choir receives public funding her rejection contravenes German equal opportunity laws.

The choir is today part of Berlin’s publicly funded University of the Arts (UdK) and provides training to 250 choirboys and 75 young men under the age of 25.

The choir has not commented while the case is ongoing, but its lawyers have told the court the girl was not rejected because of her gender.

The British soprano Lesley Garrett has called for the choir of King's College, Cambridge to accept girls Credit: Geoff Robinson/Geoff Robinson Photography

They claimed she would have been accepted if she had shown “exceptional talent and  motivation” — and that her voice “matched the desired sound characteristics of a boys’ choir”.

They also claimed she was turned down because the choir was not convinced it would have been able to work with her family.

The girl, who has not been named under German child protection laws, has not spoken publicly. The case was brought to court on her behalf by her mother, after she was rejected twice, in 2016 and 2018. 

Lawyers for the family allege she was told in writing by the dean of the university’s music faculty last December that “a girl will never sing in a boys’ choir”.

The girl’s mother argues she could not have received training of the same calibre from an all-female partner choir at the Berlin Singakademie. 

The case has rekindled debate over the traditional view in the classical music world that anatomical differences give the voices of pre-pubescent boys a “purity” most girls cannot match.

Those views have come under challenge from academic studies and music professionals in recent years. Ms Garrett claimed last December that it was “nonsense” and contended that: “Girls’ voices are just as pure, just as sweet and just as sonorous”.