Thinking Anglicans

Sheffield Cathedral to rebuild its music department

Earlier this week, Sheffield Cathedral issued this statement: Sheffield Cathedral Choir.

This prompted a large number of media reports, including:

Today the cathedral has published the full text of  The Dean’s Choir Address delivered at this morning’s Eucharist. It’s quite lengthy but I recommend reading it right through.

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Father David
8 days ago

Is there something in the Yorkshire air that causes such discord? First it was the dismissal of the bell ringers at York Minster and now it is the dismissal of the choir at Sheffield cathedral. The Dean’s address rather than sermon is full of perhaps and maybe about an uncertain future concerning the offering of music in praise of God. Sadly, in the current difficult circumstances with singing banned in church – the best the Dean and Chapter can hope for is to hire a Group of Hummers.

Just Sayin'
Just Sayin'
8 days ago

It’s a familiar dilemma, frequently expressed in job vacancies in the CT advertising for someone who can ‘take us forward whilst respecting our traditions’, the reality of course is they can’t have both. 8am and 6pm are fixtures for me, though attendance has not reached double figures for years. Yet whenever I initiate discussion at PCC/APCM about alternatives you’d think I was trying to eliminate western civilisation. I don’t know the specifics of the Sheffield case but do have many years experience as a cathedral chorister parent so I know how hard it is to maintain the current model. It… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
7 days ago
Reply to  Just Sayin'

Yes indeed, Just saying’. I’m a former church musician, chorister parent, and cleric. I’ve been intimately involved in vicar/organist rows as the assistant organist, and more recently as vicar in dealing with an organist who was let’s say “unwell”, and whose resignation was a day of great rejoicing, saving me the hassle of a sacking. I’ll wager that there’s an untold story in all this – there usually is. The D and C need support not sniping – there’s plenty of the latter on organist FB pages written by people who seem to think that a cathedral’s only function is… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
6 days ago

On the employment status of musicians and their remuneration, these lay employees are at the bottom of a three-tier structure in the Church.     In the top tier of a diocese sit the bishop, cathedral dean and two residentiary canons who enjoy a salary and pension funded by the Church Commissioners. In the middle tier are the parish clergy dependent on the resilience of the parish share scheme. Then in the lowest tier are the lay employees of the cathedral, diocese and parishes, many now furloughed and in a vulnerable situation.   In situations of poor performance such as… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
7 days ago

The small congregations at weekday evensong ought not to trouble the Dean and Chapter, as St. Chrysostom promises: that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests.   The daily office connects our worship with the monastic tradition, Evensong being a classically Anglican hybrid of vespers and compline. Clearly, the larger cathedrals and abbeys on the tourist trail in prominent city centre locations attract large numbers of pilgrims at services.     But it’s not the choristers’ fault if attendance is poor in Sheffield. And sacking people if they don’t fit an approved… Read more »

Kate
Kate
7 days ago

The English choral tradition is white, male and middle class, singing music decades, often centuries old, and frequently in Latin. Like many, I adore the sound. It is transcendently beautiful.

But it comes with a high cost in terms of equality. Personally I think the Dean and Chapter are taking the right step, although they won’t be popular for it.

Jo B
Jo B
7 days ago
Reply to  Kate

That may have been how it originated, but there are plenty of choirs (admittedly many still of boys and men, but some would claim there are good reasons of sound for that to be the case) with a good social and ethnic mix (recalling, of course, that the CofE in general is defective in those areas).   Given that the vast majority of choirs (both church and secular) are overwhelmingly female, is there a place for male-only choirs as encouraging boys and men to sing without it being seen as “girly”? Never bothered me as a young chorister but it… Read more »

Kate
Kate
7 days ago
Reply to  Jo B

Excellent points, Jo.

But I think church choirs, and especially cathedral choirs, are a special case and should be projecting the virtue of equality of opportunity.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
7 days ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate: I emphatically agree with you that cathedral choirs are a special case. Because of the complex music which they sing, which can be repertoire spanning 500 years, musical ability is the number one criterion for admission to a cathedral choir, and that happens, in my experience, irrespective of ethnic or social background, both in relation to child and adult members. I also know of organists and directors of music for whom the same can be said. Excellence is the paramount consideration in cathedral music.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
7 days ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate: I believe Salisbury Cathedral broke the ice decades ago by creating the first cathedral girls’ choir. Most cathedrals now have them alongside the boys’s choir. Sometimes the separate boys’ and girls’ choir sing together. I heard that memorably at Lincoln Cathedral last year. A few cathedrals have mixed choirs (some including mixed adults). But the adult male voice must provide the tenor and bass parts which are simply not within the female voice register. In some cathedral choirs women have joined men in ‘the back row’ singing alto parts. I have seen that at Chester and Lincoln Cathedrals and… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
7 days ago

As I understand it, Salisbury was Hugh Dickinson’s doing. He justified the innovation on the rather unusual grounds that his grandfather, the 1st Lord Dickinson of Painswick (a Liberal and later Labour politician), had been an ardent proponent of womens’ suffrage.   A secondary reason is that a number of independent choir schools attached to cathedrals were frequently in a parlous financial position. These tiny schools were often operating on threadbare margins and could not depend on sufficiently adequate subventions from capitular bodies (who were sometimes themselves in straits). Increasing pupil numbers by having girl singers could therefore prove to… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
7 days ago
Reply to  Froghole

I think probably as much (possibly more) credit is due to the Salisbury Organist and Director of Music Richard Seal who had total responsibility for the musical side of things – and a great deal more. I was privileged to attend his retirement celebration in the Cathedral and hope I am not out of order in recalling here that the lay vicars sang a madrigal specially composed for the occasion which began “The seal … ” etc., and somewhat later, the immortal line “He had one son, and now has twelve daughters”! His wife particularly enjoyed that!   Other cathedrals… Read more »

Evan McWilliams
Evan McWilliams
7 days ago
Reply to  Kate

Generalisations about the nature of an entire tradition are probably not helpful here. Our parish boys choir (32 of them at last count) comprises predominantly children recruited from the local state schools whose families come from Eastern Europe. They often have to translate for their families when they come to events. I realise a boys-only policy will be a strike against us in some people’s books but ‘white’ (meaning British) and ‘middle class’ they are not. I can’t remember the last time they sang something in Latin and before lockdown they were practising a newly-commissioned piece by a 30-something female… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
7 days ago

Sadly it is announced today that Mander Organs who built Sheffield Cathedral’s pipe organ have ceased trading. They were responsible for important instruments worldwide and here in the UK their work included St Paul’s Cathedral, London and the Royal Albert Hall.

Kate
Kate
7 days ago

Sad news.

Andrew
Andrew
6 days ago

This is indeed sad news, Rowland.   Let’s hope the restraint on singing will promote liturgical organ extemporization as in Parisian churches. Under the dome at St Paul’s, you may have been lucky to catch a French toccata as voluntary at the conclusion of a service on the Willis/Mander, with thrilling fanfares on the West End royal trumpets.   Under another Classical-style London dome, at the Royal Albert Hall, you might have heard Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on Ad Nos or Saint-Saëns’ organ symphony. Sadly, there’ll be no such performances at the Proms this year.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
3 days ago
Reply to  Andrew

Apologies for this late response to yours which I have only just seen. Non-organists need not read further. I am ancient enough to remember services under the Dome at St Paul’s Cathedral in the 1960s before Mander’s rebuilt the Willis ‘Grand Organ’. At a much later date, with a local organists’ group, I had the privilege of a private visit hosted by the late John Scott which included a dramatic demonstration in Gigout’s ‘Grand Choeur Dialogué’ of those Royal Trumpets. He told us that they were never used when Her Majesty was present in person! I was also at the… Read more »

Katherine Wilson
Katherine Wilson
7 days ago

My niece was a chorister at Sheffield Cathedral some years ago. She attended a state school and came from a single-parent home on a deprived outer housing estate. Not only did she love the experience and the friends she made, it was a life-saver in terms of giving her life skills, values and aspiration. She is now at university and intends to spend a year in Africa with a humanitarian organisation after graduating. The majority of her peers were from state schools, too, where parents would have otherwise struggled to pay musical tuition or feel they had a stake in… Read more »

Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
6 days ago

Like your niece my introduction to faith and church was via a church choir. I was from a single parent family in a working class environment. We sang everything from modern to ancient to in between. I learnt to love music and acquired many skills I have always valued. We may have been white but we were not all male or middle class or heterosexual – quite the opposite and that was from 1968 onwards. Around us was a mainly Muslim community who loved to hear the carols and songs around Christmas. I don’t know the ins and outs of… Read more »

Paul Waddington
Paul Waddington
6 days ago

I think Katherine Wilson has a good understanding of the situation in Sheffield. Her final paragraph probably tells the real story.

Andrew
Andrew
6 days ago

Many thanks for this, Katherine.   The Anglican choral tradition is emphatically classless, egalitarian and internationalist; and much more working class thirty, fifty, or seventy years ago when it was still strong in the parish churches.  Sadly, the decline of hymn-singing at assemblies and the rise of secularist instincts in state schools have also tended to deprive children of this heritage and form of collective expression. To the trained ear – including, no doubt, many of the youngsters of Sheffield cathedral choir – contemporary worship songs can sometimes sound a little trite, cringeworthy and rather poorly written. I wonder whether… Read more »

John Wallace
John Wallace
6 days ago
Reply to  Andrew

My US friend from an evangelical mega-church loves Cathedral Choral Evensong! It reaches parts that worship songs cannot!

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
6 days ago

Every other situation of organisational change I have been involved in, or known of, has been undertaken with complete transparency. A review is announced. Its terms are made clear and the identity of those carrying out the review are also known. So too is the timescale and the date when the review’s findings will be published. I’ve searched high and low on the Sheffield Cathedral website to find information that tells me all this and I can find absolutely nothing.All we have is a statement full of spin and lacking any detail that might help to reassure people that this… Read more »

John S
John S
5 days ago

Several comments here report choirs that are not dominated by white middle class musicians, and that is clearly to be celebrated and encouraged. But I don’t think they constitute more than dents in the overall picture, and discussion of that is not complete without factoring in the Oxbridge Chapel influence. The world of cathedral music and (semi)professional church choirs is rich with former organ scholars and choral scholars of Oxbridge colleges – entirely understandably so whether viewed from the supply or the demand perspective. But that route into choral music is, like Oxbridge itself and perhaps even more so, still… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
5 days ago
Reply to  John S

The domination of choral church music by Oxbridge, undoubtedly the case today, was not so in the 1960s when as a state school boy I was thinking of university entrance and organ scholarships. In those days it was possible for a state educated boy (I acknowledge that fact) to progress to a cathedral post by means of parish posts. Career opportunities in church music for “ordinary” people like me from state schools were better then than now.   What has changed? Here are some suggestions. “Proper” music education in state schools has been abandoned. At Penrith Grammar School (11 plus)… Read more »

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