Bad faith: English cathedral abolishes its choir

Bad faith: English cathedral abolishes its choir


norman lebrecht

July 22, 2020

We have received the following bland and equivocal notice from Sheffield Cathedral in the north of England:

For some years the Dean and Chapter have been looking carefully at the music offer of Sheffield Cathedral. They have come to the conclusion that there needs to be significant change. This is in order to create a Music Department and Choir ready for the exciting future of the mixed urban community in which we live and work.

With the Diocesan Bishop, Chapter are appointing a new Canon Precentor in August, responsible for Cathedral worship and music. They hope this will bring increased creativity and stability.

Following a review of the Music Department in 2019, Sheffield Cathedral Chapter has decided that a completely fresh start is needed. As a result, Chapter concluded this is the right time to close the current Cathedral Choir.

This decision has not been easy because it will directly impact several colleagues and indirectly impact us all in our close-knit community. However, we believe this is in the best interests of the long-term mission of the Cathedral.

The Canon Precentor will lead the recruitment of a new music team and the development of a fresh vision for our worship. For some time, Chapter has been considering a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion. They recognise that this will require flexibility, imagination and experiment.

Chapter is committed to retaining the distinctive choral life of an Anglican cathedral, drawing fully on our long heritage of music-making. They look forward with working with our partners throughout our City and Diocese to make this renewed vision a reality under God.


  • Tom Moose says:

    I can only imagine the dreadful music that will come next.

    • Richard Slack says:

      There was plenty of truly dreadful music written for the church over the last two centuries but I think I can read what you mean

    • M McAlpine says:

      ‘Dreadful music’ that is modern and relevant to people in 2020? The church is a living organism not a dead museum.

      • V. Lind says:

        As a lifelong churchgoer, when I moved into a new apartment many years ago I decided I would like to attend the local church. It was a happy-clappy — a new “song” or three was presented every Sunday and after a quick run-through by the singers — they were hardly a choir — we were expected to sing along.

        I gave it a few months of diligent effort, participating in the singing, but in the end decided it was worth getting on the bus and heading to the Basilica, where I could depend upon a choir and the hymns I had loved all my life. The very mixed congregation the Basilica drew, from all over the city, seemed happier with that too.

        This is just p.c., which the Anglican Church has been committed to for a long time.

        • M McAlpine says:

          You were ‘expected to sing along’? Isn’t that what worship is all about? The fact is that many churches are now reaching out with songs which are relevant to the 21st century just like Watts and Wesley did in the 18th century!

          • Allen says:

            “relevant” ?

            What you really mean is “popular”, but the overused “relevant” sounds clever and much more worthy.

            There are many reasons why certain genres become popular. Limited education and overbearing promotion being just two.

          • M McAlpine says:

            ‘The common people’ (ie the uneducated, working class people) heard Him (ie Jesus) gladly.

          • V. Lind says:

            I, and everyone else, sang along in the Basilica. In the other church, and quite a few others I have visited, what we were getting was a few lines — doubtless sincere in their faith but musically preposterous — “composed” to guitar. They changed every week. There was no new canon of modern hymns — these had neither rhyme nor rhythm — literally. The increasing horror of them was getting in the way of my proper reason for being there.

            At the Basilica, I heard hymns I had been taught as a child in Britain. They were better than the strum-strum-change-chord tootlings of the other group. I even heard some in Latin (a language with which I was fully familiar, unlike my priests!).

            Chacun à son goût, but mine is not driven by any consideration of “relevance.” Not when it comes to my devotions.

          • M Hitchcott MBE says:

            The Watts and Wesley hymns were sound in their theology. The theology of many of the modern songs (I wont call them hymns) is as muddled as what can be spouted from the pulpit in 7 – 10 minutes

  • Edward says:

    “Chapter is committed to retaining the distinctive choral life of an Anglican cathedral”. How does sacking the choir achieve that exactly?????

  • rugbyfiddler says:

    They will recruit singers (?) from a variety of genres in order to placate the ‘woke’ (dreadful adjective) community, so wait for a technicolour ensemble, singing a repertoire that non of us would associate with an Anglican place of worship. Guitars and Gospel songs anyone??

  • Peter Phillips says:

    A combination of vague aspiration and management clichês. Cathedral worship is about the only activity in the Church of England managing to hold its own. It may be different in Sheffield, however, the diocese which has or used to have the lowest rate of Church attendance in the CofE. Difficult to see how scrapping the choir and music staff will help.

  • Andrew says:

    The bishop is a dreadful trendy low church evangelical. There’ll probably be guitars, pogo sticks and synchronised hand waving…

    • C Porumbescu says:

      A C of E bishop leads the diocese, not the cathedral. That is wholly the responsibility of the Dean and Chapter.

    • IC225 says:

      He’s nothing of the sort; he’s a formidable intellectual, with a deep love of music. Either way, though, it’s irrelevant because Anglican bishops do not directly run cathedrals and this decision will have been taken by the Dean and Chapter, not the bishop.

      • ex Student Songman says:

        I have read elsewhere that a previous Precentor was a Bishop-influenced appointment. It’s not quite as arm’s-length as it might appear.

  • Euphonium Al says:

    One hopes a choir will be revived in some format. I’m not an Anglican and I wouldn’t presume to tell the parishioners how they should worship, but good music is good music, and losing a strong local choir is like losing a strong community orchestra. Another avoidable blow to classical music.

    • M McAlpine says:

      Why don’t you go and form a choir yourself instead of leaving it to the church? The church was not founded to preserve classical music which only a small fraction of the population appreciate.

      • V. Lind says:

        Lots of people know hymns used in the Anglican communion. All Things Bright and Beautiful, Abide With Me, many others. As I have discussed above, I love the hymns of my own childhood and faith, but I have always envied the Anglicans their music and their literature.

        And they must be familiar. I never set foot in an Anglican church till I was in my 30s, travelling, and I went with friends to their service. But in countless movies and TV shows I have seen and continue to see, whenever a hymn is played it tends to be a C of E staple, and I can at least hum along with the tune and in some cases know the words and seem to have all my life. Granted, my father was very ecumenical and his only criterion for a song was that it was melodic and he liked it, so I was taught everything from G&S to grand opera arias as a child. But everyone else seemed to know them too. (Children sang on the way to school in my youth).

        All the true words are being left out of these statements and discussions. This is all about making sure there are more BAME attendees at the Cathedral. Which is a laudable aim. But this initiative appears to be based on the notion that they will not come if they do not hear some watered-down music. I doubt that. If their kids are not getting places in the choir, it may have to do with attitudes that have nothing to do with music. I’ve met a few choirboys in my time, and a more elitist and exclusivist bunch I have rarely encountered.

        Opening up choir places by auditioning on talent and not previous familiarity with the music might widen the membership, and if the kids are there their parents will come, and if the parent come their neighbours and friends might look into it too.

        But I daresay a city the size of Sheffield has both Baptist and Evangelical churches. The Cathedral might consider that black people — because this is what this is about; Asians are not considered Christian — have historical and cultural ties to these religions and may be happier there, with their own music. Political correctness is bad enough, but social engineering is appalling. Not to mention futile and stupid and arrogant.

        If black people choose to raise their voices happily in gospel music to their God, I think it would be a travesty. If black people want to join the Anglican church (as many have) then let them join it. If some of their culture begins to influence musical choices, that’s a good thing.

        But I wish institutions would stop confusing welcomingness with wokeness. All it does is dilute everything.

  • Jack says:

    They are a church first and their ministry needs to meaningfully connect with their congregation. Apparently their worshippers aren’t as tuned into to Howells and all the other century old composers and so they’re taking it in a direction more congruent with the people in the pews. That’s my take on the press release you put up above. Wouldn’t do it for me, but I am not a worshipper there, so it’s none of my business.

    • V. Lind says:

      But they’re not in the pews. Do you seriously think a few happy-clappies will draw people in?

      Bit like the BBC (and the CBC over here) in their efforts to get in younger audiences. They are so misguided and all they have accomplished is to drive away their core audiences.I Iistened to the CBC when I was a student, as tuned into the concerns of my generation as anyone (except perhaps not being that interested in popular music — that came later) and was a devotee until relatively recently, when the combined devotion to a younger generation and “diversity” made too many programmes of no interest to me.

      These efforts are doomed.

    • John says:

      “Apparently their worshippers aren’t as tuned into to Howells” Of course they aren’t, the place is full of muslims. They would be far more at home with the wretched and hideous “call to prayer”

  • christopher storey says:

    Perhaps someone will tell them that “impact” is a noun and not a verb. And what on earth ( or is it in heaven ? ) is a “reality under God”?

  • SVM says:

    It seems like the Sheffield establishment have a remarkably destructive streak. First, it was the unnecessary felling of thousands of street trees, mandated by a dodgy and inflexible PFI contract. And now, the dismantling of a cathedral choir without any proper explanation. One has come to expect that English local councils, despite their democratic mandate, show no accountability whatsoever, but surely the church should have higher standards of transparency?

    Does anything good ever happen in Sheffield? (I have never been there, so I have no idea)

    • Allen says:

      I lived in the area for a while many years ago. It was left-wing politically, but culturally conservative, as many Northern industrial towns and cities were compared with the likes of York and Harrogate. I couldn’t imagine happy-clappy services going down well. Maybe it has changed.

  • Lynne says:

    Total unmitigated bullshit.

  • RHB says:

    I sing in a Cathedral Choir in the Pacific NW of the USA. We have a vibrant and growing church in our city, with especially strong education and and outreach programs. We “pack them in” on Sunday mornings with our excellent music program (all the old, dusty Anglican stuff!) and good preaching. The congregants and clergy often tell us choristers that they were originally attracted to our Cathedral because of the fine music we add to the worship. And they continue to come and become active in the parish life.

    Do not throw it (that old, dusty Angilcan music) out so quickly. I watched the American Lutherans do that over the last 30 years. Disaster! Be careful!

    RHB, Portland, Oregon

    • Allen says:

      But you need to have confidence in your own culture to do that. Much of the CoE doesn’t. It believes in everything and nothing.

  • fflambeau says:

    Is it all that bad?

    The notice indicates that the review of music at the cathedral dates back to 2019 and that new plans are being made. “Following a review of the Music Department in 2019, Sheffield Cathedral Chapter has decided that a completely fresh start is needed. As a result, Chapter concluded this is the right time to close the current Cathedral Choir.”

  • Edgar Self says:

    Anglicans are unsure whether to pray to God or Henry VIII Tudor, both of whom wrote, or titularly inspired,music. There was ephemeral popular music in the days of Scheidt, Schein, Schuetz, Hans Leo Hassler, Heinrich Isaac, Buxtehude, Tallis, Purcell and Bach, but there was also permanent art music, which we have not got today for reasons too sad for words or to contemplate.

  • Edgar Self says:

    I meant to add that Sheffiield’s statement reas like any corporate bs. after the lawyers got through with it.

  • Barbara says:

    Think of the musical disaster that was Vatican II! Modern doesn’t by definition have to produce crappy music, but too often it does, especially the guitar and praise music sort. I want church music to elevate and inspire me. If I want to hear junk, there are plenty of other ways to get that, but I certainly don’t want to hear it in church.