Written by: 
Heather Noel

A UNT College of Music alumna has been named the first female Vicar Choral in one of Europe's most prestigious cathedral choirs.

Next fall, Natalie Manning ('16), who received her bachelor's degrees in music education and vocal performance, will become the only woman to sing among the distinguished "back row" in Wells Cathedral Choir's more than 1,100-year history.

As a Vicar Choral, Manning will sing for daily services at the Anglican cathedral in Somerset, England, from a music repertoire that ranges from the Renaissance period to today.

Dating back centuries, cathedral choirs have historically been comprised of men and boys. Professional male singers -- altos, tenors, and basses -- stand on the choir's back row, and boy choristers sing soprano in the front. However, in the last three decades, women and girls have been added to more choirs across Europe.

Joining the choir at Wells means Manning can serve as a role model for young girl choristers.

"I think the thing I'm most looking forward to being the first woman in the back row at Wells is that the girls in the front row will have someone to look up to," Manning says. "For years, when they looked behind them, all they saw were men. Now, these girls can realize that there is a place for them to continue a career singing in the cathedral because this woman standing behind them is doing it."

Manning's passion for cathedral music took root at UNT, home to one of largest historical instrument collections as well as one of the only student baroque orchestras in the country.

During her time as a student in the College of Music, Manning was struck by the array of musical opportunities. She sang in multiple choirs, performed in operas and brought fellow students' own compositions to audiences for the first time. Most especially, she fell in love with early music, a genre she didn't know she could study exclusively before coming to UNT.

"It's not just that you can study vocal music in a broad sense," Manning says. "You could choose to study something so specific from a certain century, a certain part of the world, a certain style and technique, and UNT would be able to provide you with the highest level of teaching for that specific thing."

As a member of UNT's early music voice ensemble, Vox Aquilae, formerly Collegium Singers, Manning sang pieces from throughout bygone eras. Since some of the oldest known music from Western culture comes from the church, Manning's foray into early music quickly segued into church music.

Under the mentorship and recommendation of Professor Emeritus Richard Sparks, Manning took her first professional singing job at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, where she sang her first notes of Anglican choral music and performed her first Evensong service.

Following her graduation from UNT, Manning continued singing professionally and took a position as associate choir director at Lewisville High School. In that role, she taught 9th through 12th graders alongside director and UNT alumnus Steve DeCrow (‘09 M.M., ‘98) who was Manning's choir teacher in middle school.

"Teaching there totally changed my outlook on musicianship and what people need for their future enjoying and performing music," Manning says. "Steve was my very first inspiration for going into music. He's an incredible musician, but also is so gifted at teaching people how to read music and how to love performing for the music and not just a trophy."

In 2019, Manning decided to devote more time to her own singing career and live abroad like she had always dreamed. She got accepted into the University of Cambridge to pursue a Masters of Music in Choral Studies and sing with The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge under the direction of Stephen Layton.

Manning finished up that degree last year and has stayed on as Choir Administrator for The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, studying conducting with Layton and continuing to sing.

In her move to Wells next year, Manning will trade one active choral community for another. She will live among other Vicars Choral in a historic row of houses adjacent to the cathedral built in the 14th century. Called Vicar's Close, the houses make up the oldest continually inhabited street in Europe.

"I feel very lucky that I'm going from one place that is so highly respected and loved in the world of choral music to another on the same level," Manning says.