Westminster parents fear for Cathedral choir

Westminster parents fear for Cathedral choir


norman lebrecht

March 31, 2019

Parents at Westminster School have written to Cardinal Nichols protesting a decision to send kids home from the boarding school on Fridays, no longer keeping them over the weekends. The parents say it will ruin the choir.

These are the changes:

1. WCCS to become a weekly boarding school, with boys going home on Fridays at
4.00 pm (or after the normal school day), and returning on Sunday mornings at
9.00 am to sing the 10.30 am Mass.
2. Boys to sing four Masses in the Cathedral a week: Sunday 10.30 am, Monday 5.30
pm, Tuesday 5.30 pm, Thursday 5.30 pm, as well as Vespers on Sunday at 3.30 pm.
3. Midweek and Sunday visiting to cease and clubs and activities to replace them.
4. Recruitment of choristers to be limited to those families that can commit to weekly boarding.
5. Singing lessons to be scheduled during the week, rather than on Saturday mornings.
6. Morning Song Schools to run from 8.10 am – 8.50 am, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
and Friday, from 8.45 am – 9.45 am, Wednesday, and from 9.30 am – 10.25 am, Sunday.

The protesting parents say:
WCCS has a pre-eminent, foundation duty to support the choristers in their elite choral life. The current stated aims of the School include “to support a world-class choir for Westminster Cathedral”. Mr Hemingway appears to recognise the international reputation of the choir and says that the Governors aim to “strengthen and support it”: see third paragraph on page 2. It seems to us that it would be an unconscionable breach of this foundation duty, the current recognised aims for the school and the Governors’ own professed aims, to make changes which not only fail to support, but will actively damage the world-class standing of the choir.

We believe that these Changes would do just that, striking a critical blow to an important part of our national, international and Catholic heritage and tradition. The potentially devastating effect the Changes may have on some of the current chorister families, if implemented as soon as September 2019 also appears to have been ignored. It
makes it imperative that the Changes and the material employed to support them, be given full scrutiny before the Changes are implemented.



  • Paul Brownsey says:

    I have a hunch that this story confuses Westminster School, which so far as I know is not Roman Catholic, with some other institution, perhaps Westminster Cathedral Choir School.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      I really cannot understand why anyone would vote this down. I mean, I have merely pointed out a factual inaccuracy. Perhaps it was someone who likes to spread fake news.

      • Choral Concern says:

        The article mentions WCCS, which is Westminster Cathedral Choir School. Maybe the author was inaccurate in the first sentence but it certainly is not ‘fake news’

  • Timothy Goode says:

    This is specifically about Westminster Cathedral Choir School NOT Westminster School.

  • anon says:

    I have no association whatsoever with any people or institutions mentioned in this article, but it occurs to me that one possible motivation for this change might be to make the school unaffordable for parents who do not live in/near London or who are unable to make (or pay a nanny/guardian to make) a round trip to London every Friday afternoon and every Sunday morning (presumably, that is what the new format would require — it sounds like a lot of hassle for the parents, and increases the risk of no-shows for the Sunday-morning service caused by problems with transport). Such indirect economic discrimination would indeed undermine the ideal of a choir that is supposed to prioritise excellence, but it would ensure that future parents of choristers would be more likely to donate lots of £££ to the school…

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Your “hunch” is rather bizarre. Parents living near London would have been pretty much the only people who would have sent their children to this school before the proposed changes. There is little reason to think that the profile of the parents is going to change.

      Almost certainly, the reason for the changes is that fewer and fewer parents want to send their children to boarding school. Many boarding schools up-and-down the country are moving to weekly boarding to try to address this. Westminster Cathedral Choir School almost certainly feel they will find it easier to find singers if they also move to weekly boarding, and have tried to come to some new arrangement to facilitate it.

      • side75 says:

        As a chorister parent I don’t think this hunch is bizarre at all. Choristership – the school’s founding purpose – has until now prevented WCCS from being a London prep school exclusively for the ultra rich.

        Choristers start with lower fees and help is available through scholarships and bursaries (funds set up for this purpose), making this wonderful opportunity available to faithful Catholics (even poor ones) across the UK. Sadly I don’t think this is widely known.

        I am sure it is true that fewer and fewer parents are willing to send children to boarding school -for all sorts of reasons. We had never considered it until our child showed a love for singing and we found WCCS quite by accident. If the incredible experience available at WCCS was more widely known however, I am confident parents would consider it even if they were previously opposed.

        With the change to weekly boarding it will no longer be an option to anyone living outside London. It will even be tremendously difficult for some of the families within London. As yet there have been no compromises or concessions for the families who signed up for full boarding but will now find it hard or in some cases impossible. I can assure you there are boys from far outside London, and there were many more until recently.

        This will undoubtedly the change the profile of chorister parents.

        Even if other schools are struggling to recruit, this is the only Catholic school (in the world I think) that has daily sung mass – and world class at that! I am sure that if the school and us parents faithfully endeavoured together to build it up rather than manage it’s decline we could quite easily fill the 6 probationer positions year on year. I would certainly be keen to help and I know others would be as well.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    Parents send their kids to boarding school for an obvious reason. No surprise they are protesting having to see them on weekends.

  • fflambeau says:

    It’s a pretty common name so it would be best in the story to identify the school’s location.

    • Una says:

      It is in South West London, north of the River Thames, beside Victoria Underground Station, and it is called Westminster Cathedral Choir School – the famous cathedral choir in the whole of the UK not just for being Catholic. Westminster Cathedral is for the Catholic diocese of Westminster (or Archdiocese to be more correct). It is a very big diocese and stretches right out to Hertfordshire. It is not in America and has nothing to do with the elite Westminster School. For Westminster Cathedral you have to be able to – er – sing and sadly still only boys are allowed.

  • Hugo says:

    I was a chorister at WCCS (left in 2003), and I can certainly agree and understand the protests of the parents. The intense boarding life which included weekends christmases and easters taught me countless values and qualities which have been pivotal in my life and career ever since! The reputation of this world class choir was and continues to be achieved through sheer hard work and commitment on a daily basis from the choristers, Martin Baker and all the staff. Singing mass on Saturdays was always special as it was the latin mass – how many 8-13 year olds can recite all the latin responses? I could write a book about how vital this 7 DAY WEEK boarding life was. Why change a brilliant process which has worked for more than a century?

    • Concerned says:

      There, unfortunately, is a financial dimension to this. The head is not shy in stating that it costs to run the choir due to boarding and not only that there is an opportunity cost as boarders take up valuable real estate space that could be used to accommodate additional full fee paying day boys.
      This is what happens when the head of a choir school has no real appreciation for the superb choral tradition that is being nurtured within his four walls. It is shameful that the Master of Music has had no real say in this fundamental change.
      The majority of parents have now written to the Cardinal protesting about these changes but to date no response has been received.
      If one values Westminster Cathedral Choir now is the time for voices to be heard to support this superb world class choir.

    • John Elwes says:

      Quite right Hugo ! I was Head Chorister at WCCS and was there from 1955-1960 under the extraordinary direction of George Malcolm. Through George’s guidance and musicianship these five years at WCCS, and for almost ever day of those five years, I was singing wonderful Polyphony and Plainchant, and I learned how to sing there. This incredible and fortunate background at WCCS prepared me for a long and successful career as a tenor. John Hahessy/John Elwes

      • Esther Cavett says:

        ==long and successful career as a tenor. John Hahessy/John Elwes

        Yes. I believe Benjamin Britten wrote something for you ?

  • This is a disaster and a blow to our heritage.

  • PGTips says:

    Could someone please explain why this change would be detrimental to the choir? They will still be singing 4 services a week – what exactly is the problem here? Thanks.