Music director quits ‘bullying’ cathedral for a new life in finance

Music director quits ‘bullying’ cathedral for a new life in finance


norman lebrecht

April 29, 2023

Why does Church of England get into such tangles with directors of music?

Here’s a sorry story from Wakefield Cathedral.

Ed Jones arrived as director of music during Covid, after his predecessor was forced out.

Jones found just five boys in the choir. Within a year, he had 18 and the angels were singing.

Then a new Precentor arrived and the bullying began. Jones’s complaints were brushed aside. He had a breakdown and was dismissed without compensation since, at less than two years in the post, he had no statutory rights under employment law.

Jones has now given up on the house of God.

He is working as a financial advisor.

UPDATE: Clergyman is suspended


  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Sympathies for Ed Jones (hoping he enjoys his new career but will be able to return to music one day)- I was dismissed from a post teaching music (after 15 years dedicated service) in a school with strong ‘religious’ affiliations for similarly spurious reasons. The situation is truly ghastly & well done to Norman for bringing it to attention on this site. If there is bullying, disharmony & dishonesty in ‘the house of God’ also- what future is there for us in a world where all of these traits are commonplace.

  • Una says:

    I have known Ed for some years from his time at Bradford Cathedral as the associate organist. He then took up a promotional post at Worcester Cathedral but then Covid came. After Covid many Cathedral positions came about, and the post at Wakefield was one. It has a high church music tradition. Many of us were all thrilled to hear that he had got the job at Wakefield. He and his wife bought a house to settle. Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon Cathedrals all uniquely work together as one diocese of Leeds. I had a solo work commissioned by Colin Mawby in 2018 for me to sing at the centenary of Bradford Cathedral in 2019, and had the joy of Ed playing for me. At the first rehearsal, Ed had every note, every dynamic and every space worked out for me to breathe worked out. It’s not always like that with familiar works let alone a brand new work. But Ed was thoroughly prepared, so willing to rehearse, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. I can only write as I speak and only found him to be very nice, funny, very talented, and lives teaching kids to be the best they can be, but also very unassuming. He is playing for us at Bradford tomorrow as holiday cover for own director for a week. We will all be delighted to have him back as he is extremely well liked by all at Bradford so it’s an utterly sad situation as to what has gone on at Wakefield Cathedral for a second time and then a total waste of musical talent for him to go into the corporate world, but then who would blame him. He also has a mortgage to pay!

  • Mr Gareth R Vaughan says:

    The Church of England has no management skills. The intellectual and, sad to say, spiritual standard of many of its clergy is lamentable, and the bishops are the worst of all, led by the supremely underwhelming Welby. It is no wonder congregations are failing.

  • samach says:

    Isn’t God basically one big bully? Eve bullied Adam, Cain bullied Abel…

  • S. J. JACKSON says:

    The unfortunate Mr. Jones won’t thank you for putting up a picture of Wells Cathedral there. But one cathedral is very much like another, hey.

  • Former Church Musician says:

    Another example of the hapless unsupportive bullying senior management towards those musicians who try to bring their level best professionalism and musical expertise to the church…
    Soon the church won’t have any decent musicians helping lead and enhance music in worship…
    Or is that that is part of the masterplan? Dumb down church music over religion and liturgy?
    I can count several disillusioned first rate musicians who have left employ of the church due to clergy senior management bullying. There are more resignations and departures to come.

    • Sarah says:

      Always ‘middle management’ the problem in banks and churches – deans and precentor-type appointments with allegedly great power. The new breed of personable bishops, many of which are fine women, are the least problem. But you do wonder if any of them know anything about being a professional classical musician, many of whom are actually practising Christians with a faith, not just playing the game. It’s really like employing a dog to bark but then end up barking mad themselves.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I wondered, when I read this, if Generation Snowflake wasn’t and isn’t the problem.

    If you cannot get along with your masters/superiors and they have to be replaced you need to look more closely into the mirror.

    • Former Church Musician says:

      Do you know any Organist or Director of Music in our great Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches and College Chapels who DO get along with their Clergy colleagues on a mutual collaborative basis??
      I’ve been involved in church music for over 50 years and yet to meet one!

      • Una says:

        Bradford Cathedral for sure with its three fine priests as Canons and assistants, and then a fine team of musicians. Then Leeds Minster and Leeds Cathedral run so well.

    • RZ says:

      What is wrong with you?

      • David D says:

        RZ, is that a reply to Sue Sonata Form? Yes, I thought it was rather an unhelpful comment too.

    • Una says:

      I don’t think so, Sue, in this case. Ed is unassuming but no Scottish snowflake!

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      A certain Johann Sebastian Bach was constantly fighting with his church superiors – who are remembered today only because of these fights. I don’t think that he belonged to “Generation Snowflake” or that he had to “look more closely into the mirror”… Mr. Jones is in pretty good company.

  • Garry Humphreys says:

    Why the picture of Wells when the story’s about Wakefield?

  • Hugh Potton says:

    The facility to rule by ‘divine right’ may have ended for the monarchy, with the execution of Charles I in 1649. Sadly, it remains an all too prevalent practice within the Church of England to this very day, particularly with regard to the autocratic manner in which a significant number of the clergy deal with their music directors. In my forty plus years as a church musician, having served under at least a dozen different vicars, I would consider that as few as two of them treated me like a genuine colleague, working cooperatively for the furtherance of God’s ministry. Whilst I cannot lay claim to having been bullied like Ed Jones, I am well aware through discussions with fellow church musicians of how rife the problem is; and, sad to say, I think Ed Jones is now in a better place, albeit in the cut-throat world of finance.

  • Doc Martin says:

    The Church of Ireland outmatches its sister, the Church of England in both ecclesiastical matters and in the appreciation of the performing arts, evidenced by the famous letter from the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Dr Jonathan Swift D.D.

    28th January 1741.

    Whereas my infirmities of age and ill-health have prevented me to preside in the chapters held for the good order and government of my cathedral church of St. Patrick, Dublin, in person: I have, by a legal commission, made and appointed the very reverend Doctor John Wynne, precentor of the said cathedral, to be sub-dean in my stead and absence. I do hereby ratify and confirm all the powers delegated to the said Dr. Wynne in the said Commission.

    And I do hereby require and request the very reverend sub-dean not to permit any of the vicars-choral, choristers, or organists, to attend or assist at any public musical performances, without my consent, or his consent, with the consent of the chapter first obtained.

    And whereas it hath been reported, that I gave a licence to certain vicars to assist at a club of fiddlers in Fishamble Street, I do hereby declare that I remember no such licence to have been ever signed or sealed by me; and that if ever such pretended licence should be produced, I do hereby annul and vacate the said licence. Intreating my said sub-dean and chapter to punish such vicars as shall ever appear there, as songsters, fiddlers, pipers, trumpeters, drummers, drum-majors, or in any sonal quality, according to the flagitious aggravations of their respective disobedience, rebellion, perfidy, and ingratitude.

    I require my said sub-dean to proceed to the extremity of expulsion, if the said vicars should be found ungovernable, impenitent, or self-sufficient, especially Taberner, Phipps, and Church, who, as I am informed, have, in violation of my sub-dean’s and chapter’s order in December last, at the instance of some obscure persons unknown, presumed to sing and fiddle at the club above mentioned.

    My resolution is to preserve the dignity of my station, and the honour of my chapter; and, gentlemen, it is incumbent upon you to aid me, and to show who and what the Dean and Chapter of Saint Patrick’s are.

    Signed by me,
    Dean of St. Patrick’s.

    Witnesses present,

    To the very Reverend Doctor John Wynne, sub-dean of the Cathedral church of Saint Patrick, Dublin, and to the reverend dignitaries and prebendaries of the same.

  • Hildegard VB says:

    Aren’t there two sides to every story?…

  • Martin B-K says:

    Erm… I know I might be stating the bleeding obvious, but your picture accompanying this story is not Wakefield Cathedral, but the rather beautiful Wells Cathedral. I’d want my best friend to tell me!

  • Edward L Seymour says:

    Why do Precentors feel the need to bully Music Directors? Do they feel the music gets more attention than their words? I’m curious…

  • Edward says:

    I have no comment on this individual story, not knowing any of the people involved, but the relationship between vicar and church musician will perhaps frequently be a strained one for the simple fact that, at least in the CofE, vicars ultimately have the final say in what goes on musically and liturgically in their churches (within reason of course, and answerable to their bishops) so you have vicars who are usually unqualified to speak on musical matters ordering the qualified musician about in matters of what may/may not or should/should not be performed. Of course it is possible to make this relationship work on a mutually respectful and collaborative basis, but often this is not the case and so inevitably tensions will occur and unfortunately escalate to the point where one party decides to walk, and because of the superiority of the Vicar in this relationship it is almost always the musician that is forced out. If a vicar decides something against the will/advice of the church musician, the vicar will most likely be supported by their senior clergy, whereas the church musician can only turn to the PCC who also cannot really override a vicar (who will be the chair of the PCC) or maybe hope the congregation will apply pressure, so they have no real official line of protest or arbitration, leaving them the option of resigning themselves to the situation, or just resigning.

    • Maria says:

      Very well said. Too many priests even choosing the hymns when a director of music often knows the hymn books far better and the pitfalls in choosing hymns, unless it’s Kumbaya or Danny Boy!

  • Justin Brown says:

    I feel much sympathy for Ed Jones, but I’m unsurprised. The Surrey church I used to attend had a fine choir and a West Gallery Band, in which I was the violinist. Now the music is supplied by a third-rate guitarist, who can’t read a note and won’t play anything except Graham Kendrick. This was intended to encourage a ‘more youthful’ attendance. I did look in last Sunday, when the entire congregation consisted of 3 ladies from a nearby care home. Another triumph for the Elizabethan settlement and the present Archwizard of Canterbury.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      This sort of thing I guess:

      Listen at 16:05 + Quite interesting.

      • Maria says:

        1605 At least they could try and all sing in the same key at the same time! So shoddy. Once said it’s enough to turn away the intelligent and insult the Almighty.

    • P.Fletcher says:

      Same problem here in the States. Watered-down, boring music replaces wonderful, traditional church music in hopes of drawing a younger crowd. The issue, however, really is the quality of the music. Good contemporary music can also draw folks. It’s the wimpy, mamby-pamby stuff that keeps them away.

  • Doc Martin says:

    My friend Patrick Comerford has written this handy guide to the role of the precentor.

  • Doc Martin says:

    I am pleased to report that our Clerical friends in the Catholic Church have embraced Ecumenical matters and now actively assist in judging the annual Lovely Girls contest held on Craggy island. Naturally there is a performance of Neil Hannon’s masterpiece, My lovely horse, (with Sax solo).

    Perhaps the Church of England might consider the benefit of this.

    • Ulick Magee says:

      The great Franz Schubert wrote: “I have composed many wonderful things, the Octet, the Ninth Symphony, the Rosamunde music, the Death and the Maiden Quartet, as well as innumerable songs for voice and piano; yet when I compare myself with the composer of My Lovely Horse I desire only to throw my own work on the fire.”

    • Maria says:

      Fr Ted! Ha!

    • Una says:


  • Doc Martin says:

    Even Johann Sebastian Bach had problems, with ecclesiastical dignitaries in Leipzig. This has been going on for quite a long time.

  • Doc Martin says:

    In Ireland, he would be able to claim for unfair dismissal as the cut off time is a year minimum unlike UK which is 2 years.
    Employment protection is better in Ireland.,service%2C%20subject%20to%20limited%20exceptions.

  • Una says:

    The ‘bullying’ Precentor of Wakefield has now apparently been suspended. All taken far too long from last year.

  • David D says:

    I think there is unfortunately a dumbing down of classical music in this country altogether, and the Church is, sadly, no exception. The religious and admin staff there often have little understanding of good music – and it’s almost as if they are jealous of fine musicians. I suspect that this problem is more prevalent in England than our other home nations. (I am living in and from England, in case anyone is wondering.)

    • Maria says:

      Not that long when St Anne’s, Belfast Cathedral ran out of money, and the choir was disbanded. Then the Queen died last September, and for the King to go to all corners of the UK for a Memorial service in each country of the UK, the cathedral had to bring in Opera Ireland and some others to form a choir as there was apparently none of their own to sing the service as there was no cathedral choir it seems.

  • David D says:

    When I said religious staff in my message just above, assuming it will be approved, I did mean the clergy.

  • Gordus VB says:

    And now we hear that the Dean and Chapter are not allowing anyone except the current Acting DOM (who wasn’t successful when Dr Ed Jones was appointed) to be interviewed to replace Ed!!! Hmmmmm. A “special measure”! That’s not transparent or ensuring the best candidate is found!

  • GH Rouse says:

    From the Dean to members of the music department…

    “Tomorrow, Thursday 12 May, James Bowstead, our Interim Director of Music, will be interviewed for the post of Director of Music at Wakefield Cathedral.

    This will be a formal process, including various practical exercises, a panel interview, and observation of part of the rehearsal before evensong.

    The panel will include an external advisor, a Professor of Music, who will be able to provide appropriate professional assessment and advice for the Panel.

    Under a process agreed by Chapter, James is the only candidate for the role at this stage. If he is appointed to the role a further announcement will follow.”

    What a debacle…