Chaos in the Cathedral as choir faults are exposed

Chaos in the Cathedral as choir faults are exposed


norman lebrecht

July 23, 2020

We reported yesterday that Sheffield Cathedral had abolished its choir. The parental letter below exposes total mayhem in the management of Cathdral music, with four music directors departing in five years and other staff feeling ‘unsafe and unsupported’

Read on:

To the Editor of Church Times

Your readers will be forgiven for believing that Sheffield cathedral has closed its choir “after a two year review of the music department,” with the implication that the current (now ex) choristers, lay-clerks and choral scholars were holding the cathedral back from their ambitions for the future. That is absolutely not the case. This is my understanding of what has happened, from my vantage point as a choir parent since 2011:

There was a very short review (perhaps two days?) last summer, but changes were made and the choir went from strength to strength from September 2019 to March 2020, evidenced in Chapter’s unanimous decision to appoint Joshua Stephens as Master of Music, taking up his post on 8th March to everyone’s great delight. However, with the onset of coronavirus, Mr Stephens was furloughed and the cathedral failed to communicate this to any of the choir. Mr Stephens allegedly experienced harassment from the cathedral management and silence from the clergy while furloughed. This was not unusual behaviour for the cathedral as others have experienced the same in the past, but lockdown sharpened the focus and made it more evident. I made a formal complaint but little action was taken, and Mr Stephens resigned at the end of June stating that he was not compatible with the prevailing culture in the cathedral. Chapter accepted his resignation without talking to him to understand his motives. Lay-clerks, parents, and choristers were distraught and begged Chapter to initiate mediation. But instead they decided to close down the choir and start afresh, with no encouragement to ex-choir members to be part of the new vision.

This course of events would have been unbelievable back in February when plans were being made for a new wider recruitment programme, a choir tour to Berlin and new ideas for a younger choir and one for boys’ changing voices. The choir was energised and optimistic, but during all the pressures of lockdown as well as the fire at the Cathedral Archer Project, the clergy admitted that the music department had “slipped through the net”. Nevertheless choir parents and layclerks kept up morale amongst the choristers with zoom parties on the theme of different composers each week, but there was no communication at all from the cathedral to the choir from the last choir rehearsal before lockdown until 24th June when the Dean talked about bringing Mr Stephens back off furlough and preparing to start up again. However, Mr Stephens was not copied into that email and he resigned the following day. The fourth Director of Music to leave Sheffield cathedral in five years. The cathedral’s Head Steward has also since resigned in protest, as did the leaders of the 100-strong Toddler group last year, and as has one of the choir chaperones, stating that she feels unsafe and unsupported. Now Chapter has suddenly decided to discard the choir and start afresh without consulting any of the musicians. Indeed the press heard about it before even the choristers did!

We recommend that the Dean and Chapter read Frederic Laloux’s book “Reinventing Organisations” to understand something about treating people as whole persons and helping them flourish to be the best they can be for the benefit of all, rather than as replaceable cogs playing a role in a machine. Perhaps they would then see the strength of fury that has been unleashed amongst the choir community in recent weeks as an asset to build upon, rather than as something to run from? Then they would find an experienced, committed and flexible core of highly skilled singers to be of great value to Sheffield cathedral’s plans for music provision in the future. But that can only happen if they dare to be real. Why are they so afraid?



  • Mathew Tucker says:

    What a bizarre tale. Staggering ineptitude, thoughtlessness and arrogance from the Cathedral’s authorities if true.

  • Howells of Indignation says:

    Little to do with guitars and tambourines, and more about woeful people management.

    • Maria says:

      Love thy neighbour as yourself! If half of this is true, you’d get better treated in the corporate world in London than this! Directors of music just don’t resign on a whim. Jobs are precious enough and many move house and upstyx to take up such a position with a plan to stay five years. But where was the pastoral care from priests for their music directors et al????? No wonder people get sick of the church with such clumsy teeatment!

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    Perhaps an indelicate question, but I ask it anyway… Where is the Christian compassion in all this?

    • Norbert says:

      My dear Micaelo – what a silly thought!

      You don’t get Christian conduct in C of E cathedrals.
      They’re the hottest beds of bitchiness and high-camp infighting in Britain!

      There’s usually plenty of “coveting thy neighbours wife” and all sorts of other hypocrisy.

    • Maria says:

      Exactly! It is the house of God, not the game of thrones! I speak as a practising churchgoer and a professional musician outside of the church. You don’t have to be a Christian to be compassionate, but you need to behave – at least try to follow Jesus. No way would he have behaved like this!

  • Leo Doherty says:

    Management of every institution and company are using the covid virus to make change or do things they couldn’t get away with prior to lockdown. It’s human nature.

  • Armchair Bard says:

    Wesley Carr must be rotating in delight.

  • V. Lind says:

    We all know what this is about. Imposed diversity. Whether there is a demand for it or not.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      I certainly don’t know that that is what it’s about, so you are bnot my spokesman. What sort of diversity to you regard as about to be imposed and what’s lamentable about it? Is “diversity” automatically a dirty word for you?

    • Edgar Self says:

      .Not or the first time I find concenity of expression. This will not stop my purloining your copiously terse phrase “imposed diversity” by a process of prolepsis, or plagiarising in advance, similar to what P. B. Shelley 7erms inenarrable. Is it original? Well now there then, you have all the newly learnt word-list; I warrant you already know them. It shows in your writing, a key to personality, that is destiny.

      Not for nothing does Ludovico Settembrini say, in “Magic Mountain”, with fine irony, “It is necessary that someone to show some spirit”, while biting his organ grinder’s mustaccio, in a risorgimento of humanism, compiling the encyclopaedia of suffering, and writing the obituary notices of Giosue Carducci for German periodicals. poised for the next “Sapristi!” or wclaircisement. I cannot vouch for the spelling of these languages, none my own, though you are particular about such things. Besides, I personally prefer Leopardi to Carducci, as in his marvelous “L’Infinito”.

      Did you hear of the man who spoke all languages, inluding his own, with a foreign accent?

      You are sometimes severe with Baja Canada, but no more than we deserve, particularly some of us. I stand by Gamache’s four general orders: I don’t know, I need help, I’m sorry (in this, the Age of Apologies), and I was wrong. I hope I am right.

      • V. Lind says:

        Not clear about “concenity.” Would you care to enlighten me?

        And I do not recall being “severe” with Quebec. But I am pleased that you read Louise Penny.

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        Would it be possible to add a note saying what you mean?

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    “stating that she feels unsafe ”

    In what way? Did she fear someone coming at her with an axe? I wonder if she’s one of those who use “I feel unsafe” to mean something like “There are aspects of the situation I’m not altogether happy about”?

  • Robert Tapsfield says:

    I did think that the age of clergy regarding music as a necessary evil had passed; sadly, as this report shows, that is not so. It would be a sad situation in a parish church; it is doubly so in a cathedral, where one expects higher standards to be set.

  • Edgar Self says:

    . ind.–Severe, not with Quebec … what a nose! — but with “Baja Canada”, which to me and some othersthe USA, as in Alta California, El Norte, Baja California, *tc. In my brief time here (it seems longer) I’ve learnt the danger of trying to be funny or get a laugh from The Group.

    Yes, I’ve gone through all of Louise Penny I can find, but on audi-books owing to blindnss from glaucoma, also my excuse for mis-spelling concinnity that I was so proud of, in the editing process with my seeing-eye persons. Chapeau.

    Three Pins is a diverting, if improbable, conceit: the bistro, profane poetess with pet duck, black psychologist book-seller, painter of genius with food in hair and threatened marocosmic husband-painter, Gamache’s lieutenants and superior, his son-in-law with rehab nd other issues, who shoots his father-in-law in the leg to save his life, so that I keep on reading, or listening.

    The reception of compliments an indicator of ccharacter.

    Please forgive typos and use native wit to de-crypt, no hidden intent, only admirationk unqccustomed as it is. I’m not reading this over, and the dogs aren’t aailable. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzi hadd thoought this might play out differently/

  • Edgar Self says:

    Now I’m vlummoxed in turn by lack of reply. Would you care to explain? No answer is also an answer, but they do seem to accumulate at the cosmic dead-letter office/ I don’t know. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. .