Church musicians turn fire on Cathedral

Church musicians turn fire on Cathedral


norman lebrecht

July 24, 2020

Some of the big names in Anglican music are running a campaign to stop Sheffield abolishing its cathedral choir.

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As former musicians of Sheffield Cathedral, we were shocked and saddened to hear of the Dean and Chapter’s decision to close the Cathedral Choir. In this collective statement, we want to correct the record, put forward our views on how the Cathedral can move forward from this situation, and challenge the divisive narrative being advanced by those with responsibility for leading and managing the wider Cathedral community through sharing our own experiences of music making at the Cathedral.

We welcome the Dean and Chapter’s desire to champion diversity and inclusion and their willingness to connect with the ‘mixed urban communities’ in which the Cathedral is situated. However, we are alarmed by statements from the Dean and Chapter which attempt to frame their decision to disband the Cathedral Choir as one of championing inclusion. We believe that it is dangerous and wrong to characterise our grievances with their decision in this way.

More must be done to make organisations more diverse and inclusive. But, to use inclusion as a pretext to obscure the Dean and Chapter’s mismanagement of music at Sheffield Cathedral is shameful. In recent years, Sheffield Cathedral Choir has made great advances in encouraging the role of women and non-binary members among the lay clerks and choral scholars of the choir. It also supported a girls’ choir and a Schola Cantorum, serving university student communities. Cathedral musicians, past and present, led the Cathedral’s outreach work which took music across the city. Notably, this included the Sheffield Cathedral Sing! Project, which worked with 2,000 children from 30 primary schools each year, including children of mixed heritage, different disabilities, and socio-economic disadvantage. Through this work, cathedral musicians connected meaningfully with schools from some of Sheffield’s most disadvantaged areas.

Regrettably, the Dean and Chapter’s statement also advances a misleading argument regarding the proportion of choristers at Sheffield Cathedral that were privately educated. Over the last 20 years, privately educated children have typically constituted a minority of the choristers at Sheffield Cathedral. In fact, we are aware that the Dean and Chapter were seeking to establish a formal partnership with Birkdale School, a private school in the city this year. These actions seem to be at odds with the Dean and Chapter’s statements.

Sheffield Cathedral Choir has developed over the last 400 years, so it is right that the Dean and Chapter acknowledge that starting anew will require ‘flexibility, imagination and experiment’. We offer for their consideration successful schemes underway in other Yorkshire cathedrals (for example Leeds Cathedral Choir, which reformed successfully without disbanding its existing setup). A new Canon Precentor will be recruited by the Dean and Chapter to lead this work, and it is surely misguided to remove all existing expertise within the Cathedral. This will make the new appointee’s work to make the Cathedral a musical place for all people significantly harder.

The task of rebuilding music at Sheffield Cathedral will require a commitment to inclusive dialogue which has been notably absent from recent events. The process must engage meaningfully with all people affected by this current decision. This means the Dean and Chapter must reach out beyond the vested interests that underlie this short-sighted decision. The process must include voices from past and present members of the Cathedral community.

In their public statements, the Dean and Chapter have failed to offer any condolences to the musicians that have lost their jobs resulting from their recent decision. We feel this is a glaring omission. They have also neglected to recognise the dedicated service of choristers, choir parents, lay clerks, choral scholars and many others who took great pride in being part of the musical community at Sheffield Cathedral. We extend our solidarity with current musicians and their families and we thank them for their dedication and service. We ask that the Dean and Chapter publicly join us in enthusiastically recognising the work of those whose services have so unexpectedly been dispensed with.

Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir!

Signed by former musicians of Sheffield Cathedral Choir:

James Bingham, Choral Scholar and Outreach Animateur (2010-2013)

Stewart Campbell, Choral Scholar and Lay Clerk (2003-2016)

Nicholas Cox, Lay Clerk and Outreach Animateur (2007-2017)

Guy Cowman-Sharpe, Choral Scholar (2014-2017)

Ella Taylor, Chorister (2004-2010)

Gina Walters, Chorister (2001-2007) and Outreach Assistant (2008-2009)

Olivia Shotton, Choral Scholar, Lay Clerk, Theory Teacher (choristers), Outreach Animateur (2015-2019)

Dr Stephen Henthorn, Choral Scholar and Lay Clerk (2011-2019)

Timothy Peters, Choral Scholar and Lay Clerk (2014-2019), Animateur of Sheffield Cathedral’s Young Voices (2017-2019)

Duncan Kelly, Choral Scholar (2013-2016)

Jonny Peters, Choral Scholar (2011-2014)

Dr Richard Longman, Deputy Lay Clerk (2012-2016) and Sing! Project collaborator (2013)

Professor Helen Abbott, Cathedral Consort (2012-2016)

Colin Davey, Organ Scholar (1992-1995)

Anthony Gowing, Assistant Director of Music (2005-2012)

Elizabeth Watts, DMus, FRCM, Singing Teacher (1998-2002)

Louis Romégoux, Chorister (1995-1998) and Choral Scholar (2005-2010)

Vanessa Frampton, Chorister (2008-2014)

Dr Emma Roberts-Tyler, Chorister (1996-2003)

Alice Muir, Chorister (1998-2001)

Emily Beahan, Chorister (1994-1999)

Georgina Hulse, Chorister (1997-2005)

Amy Wood, Chorister (1995-2002)

Katherine Soper née Beddus, Chorister (1995-2002)

Alistair Jellinek. Chorister (2004-2011)

Laura Barnett, Chorister (1999-2005)

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  • christopher storey says:

    Rather a lot of sore ( or possibly even detached ) goolies amongst the Dean and Chapter after that broadside

  • Norbert says:

    The history of tension between Chapter and Music dept., is long and storied and can be seen going back 100 years across many Cathedrals, Oxbridge colleges, Minsters etc.

    The English choral tradition is arguably one of the few areas of (classical) musical culture, Britain can genuinely call it’s own, and proudly-so.

    I have no knowledge of this situation whatever, but I suspect this didn’t just jump out of the darkness – there is usually a whole simmering background leading upto such eruptions.

    Let us hope sense, and CHRISTIAN values prevail, and musicians can be treated with respect and humanity.

    • V. Lind says:

      After the fact…sounds even nastier than just trying to get more blues and less Buxtehude into the Cathedral.

      • Edgar Self says:

        I’ve left upi a ;pmg overdie, wewell deserved ,essage and drink of water onthe Chaps in Shefield Cathedral Choir toppc board and hope you see it to ease my conscienc, even if I live to regret it. Please disregard previous smoke-signal about Polish direcctor thread, although there might be something on there too for all I know, as I am not an active church-goer and can speak ex cathedra. .

  • Peter San Diego says:

    The expression “turn fire on cathedral” seems an unfortunate choice of words these days, even though “fire” is understood to be metaphorical.

  • Jack says:

    Interesting to not that many to most of the signatories have not been associated with the Sheffield choirs for many years.