A lay clerk, also known as a lay vicar, song man or a vicar choral, is a professional adult singer in a cathedral or (occasionally) collegiatechoir in the United Kingdom. The vicars choral were substitutes for the canons. They are not in holy orders; the term "vicar" in this context comes from Latin word vice ("in place of") and simply means a deputy (as in vice-president). The majority of lay clerks are male, however, female altos are nowadays becoming increasingly common.
The title refers to the laymen who were employed to sing musical sections of church services during the Middle Ages. At the time, this was often music which was evolving into a format too complicated to be sung by many ordinary clerks and priests. With the post-war proliferation of Cathedral choral scholarships, however, many cathedral or collegiate choirs comprise a balance between choral scholars (or, as at New College, Oxford, and Magdalen College, Oxford, "academical clerks") – university or "gap year" students who combine their studies or other commitments with singing – and lay clerks. Choral scholars sing alongside lay clerks for usually around half the latter's salary. Many universities now offer such scholarships to fill places within college and cathedral choirs.